Toolkit: Lots o’ Bots in a Montgomery County Elementary School

Left to right: Emily Brant, kindergarten educator; Evelyn Harris, 2nd grade educator; Erika Shields, 2nd grade educator; and Jessica Blacksten, STEM instructor.

Meet four bots-crazy, STEM-conscious teachers at Montgomery County’s Takoma Park Elementary School where they work together to integrate robotics into their K-2 classrooms.

Elementary students are naturally curious about the world and how things work. In 2019, the Blocks to Bots project, supported by a grant from NEA and led by Evelyn Harris, was piloted with an integration of robotics in Emily Brant’s kindergarten class and Evelyn’s second grade class. STEM educator Jessica Blacksten developed lessons that included robots. Second grade educator Erika Shields is currently implementing the program in her classroom.

MEETING STUDENTS WHERE THEY ARE Today’s K-2 students are digital natives. A project that significantly raises reading and mathematics comprehension while teaching coding creates a model that can be duplicated in the school and throughout the school system. This project provides a foundation for STEM that enhances students’ chances of enrolling in STEM-based magnet programs in middle school.

BEYOND THE NORM Very few robotics programs are offered to grades K-2 in the public schools. It’s rare to find a compre­hensive K-2 robotics program that includes students working in small groups with tangible materials building and coding robots. The Blocks to Bots program supports the expansion of K-2 robotics in­struction within the Montgomery County school system.

UPLIFTING STUDENT ENGAGEMENT In kindergarten, students culti­vate their love for science, tech­nology, engineering, and math through their use of BlueBots. At this young age, students show very little need for redirection while engaged with the robots and are consistently on-task. This shows the importance of trans­disciplinary studies. STEM can be integrated into daily instruction of literacy and math to engage students, sustain engagement, and foster skill development.

STRENGTHENING THE CURRICULUM By second grade, our students have been exposed to STEM. Having the opportunity to use SpheroBots outside of STEM class adds an additional layer of engagement. During their time with the SpheroBots, our second graders demonstrate skills like critical thinking, effort and motivation, and collaboration and problem-solving. This is interesting to witness because during standard math instruction students may become frustrated and impatient. Observing this change is powerful. These skills and behaviors include: patience and understanding as they work collaboratively; determination and perseverance as they push through to reach their objective(s); and active reflection as they explain their thinking and engineering. These positive processes and experiences allow our students to connect and become accountable for their learning.Content goes here!

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