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Teaching Tykes to Program Robots

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Kibo allows young tinkerers to build a robot using supplied modular components, personalize it with art designs and then program it to do their bidding using colored program blocks.

The KIWI robotic kit teaches young students programming via robotics.

Credit: DevTech research group, Tufts University

Tufts University professor and Scratch Jr. creator Marina Umaschi Bers has developed the KIWI robotic kit, known as KIBO, which teaches programming via robotics, without screens, tablets, or keyboards.

KIBO, which is designed for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, enables users to scan wooden blocks to give robots simple commands, and in the process teaches them about sequencing. Students combine a series of commands to make the robot interact with its environment. In addition, KIBO comes with a curriculum, lesson plans, badges, design journals, and teacher training.

In March, Bers and Tufts researcher Amanda Sullivan conducted an eight-week pilot study of the KIBO curriculum. The researchers found the participating pre-kindergarten children were able to master basic robotics and programming skills, while older students were able to master increasingly complex concepts using the robotics kit.

The researchers believe the skills of programming and engineering will help children learn to think in new ways. "When we teach children how to read and write, we don't expect everyone to become a journalist or a novelist," Bers says. "But we believe they'll be able to think in new ways because it opens the doors to thinking. We believe the same thing for the skills of programming and engineering."

From National Science Foundation
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