We are surrounded by technology. Yet, in the early grades, children learn very little about this subject. Although it is common to see young children using cardboard or recycled materials to build cities and bridges and become “little engineers” (Bers, 2008b), early childhood curriculum has for decades focused on literacy and numeracy, with some recent attention to science. The TangibleK robotics program is grounded on the belief that teaching children about the human-made world is as important as teaching them about the natural world, numbers, and letters (Bers, 2008a). However, what is unique to our human-made world today is the fusion of electronics and software with mechanical structures—the discipline of robotics.
Program Goals and Research Questions
TangibleK Robotics is an educational robotics program that has been piloted with children and teachers in prekindergarten to second grade. It consists of curriculum, assessment tools, and a robotics construction kit with a developmentally appropriate interface. The curriculum and the kit are specifically aimed at teaching a particular subset of mental tools to young children—powerful ideas and skills that are useful when applying computational thinking in a robotic context.
Not enough is known at present about how working with new technologies might promote computational thinking in young children and what kinds of learning trajectories lead to the best outcomes. These are the goals of the TangibleK research program, which explores both learning aspects and computer interface design issues such as tangible programming languages.
Three research questions are at the core of work on TangibleK:
- What are young children’s trajectories in computational thinking when exposed to a robotics educational program?
- What concepts and skills are involved in robotics programming that young children can develop, and what support mechanisms (in terms of both curriculum and technology) do they need?
- What design elements should a developmentally appropriate robotics kit include to engage young children in a successful learning experience?