We introduced Bee-Bots about two years ago now, and they are a firm favourite with many children. Children aged between 3 and 7 use them on a regular basis, sometimes as part of ICT lessons, sometimes to support tasks in all areas of the curriculum. At school, teachers have identified the following key benefits of using the Bee-Bots
• Children were highly motivated and keen to use Bee-Bot.
• Bee-Bots provided a new vehicle for the introduction of key concepts in an easy and friendly way.
• Bee-Bots helped with the development of skills such as logical sequencing, measuring, comparing lengths, space orientation, expressing concepts in words
Our swarm continued to grow as we found new uses for the Bee-Bots.
However last year we reached plateau. Bee-Bot was being used where he could be, without compromising all other important elements of an Early Years curriculum. But a little niggling voice in my head said we could be doing more, how to accomplish this was the hard part. Several options crossed my mind. We could employ more staff to use Bee-Bots with the children. This would involve a large cost to the school, which I was unconvinced would present value for money and I would not be able to persuade the head teacher. I could badger the class teachers to use the Bee-Bot more, although I felt almost all staff were using the bee-bots to their full. I had already used Bee-Bots inn club activities, so perhaps children could have more unstructured play time with the Be-Bots. This option did not seem sensible, as although we were finding the children enjoyed unstructured playtime with the Bee-Bots, many 4 and 5 year olds lost motivation after a while and were unable to focus on the activity. I was also aware that whilst some children thrive in an unstructured activity and benefit enormously from the free exploration, some learn in more structured ways.
So, whilst washing up one night, I came up with the idea of Bee-Bot Boxes. Alongside our very popular story sacks, we would lend out Bee-Bot boxes, allowing our children to take the technology home, share their skills with their family and develop skills across the curriculum.
I canvassed opinion of some friendly parents and whilst the majority were positive, a few voiced concerns such as:
“Would my child be able to use it?”
“Cant we just have a nice book?”
“I’m not sure I would know what to do with a Robot”
“What is the point when they have lots of toys already?”
“What if we break it?”
None of these were enough to dampen my enthusiasm, and I set about defining a list of aims. These were:
• To allow the children more time to play with the Bee-Bot in a non threatening environment.
• For children to be able to show their parents how to use the bee-bots, thus raising self esteem.
• To encourage the development of core skills in literacy and maths.
• To encourage parents to get involved in exploring new activities with their child.
• To develop further links with home and school.
• To continue to excite and motivate the children whilst developing their sequencing, directional and programming skills.
Next I had to create a list of topics to base the Bee-Bot boxes on. Some were obvious as we already had resources made. Others were requested by the staff and children. I tried to avoid story sack titles and spent a long time creating a gender balanced list of topics our 4 and 5 year olds would enjoy. In the end I created boxes based on ‘mini-beasts’, ‘ballet’, ‘builders’, ‘cars’, ‘fairies’, ‘pirates’, ‘jungle’, ‘pants’, ‘under the sea’, ‘fairy tales’, ’rhymes’, dinosaurs’ and ‘computers’.
I decided each box would have a Bee-Bot with a set of cards for Bee-Bot to travel along. These cards would be stuck together to reduce the chance of odd ones getting lost. They would be based on the box topic, so, for example in the ballet box, the 15cm2 mats all have pictures of ballet clothing such as tutu, ballet slippers, ballet cardigan etc. A laminated game instruction sheet accompanies each activity.
Each box contains
· a book based on the topic
· a set of Bee-Bot cards stuck together to make a mat
Another activity such as dominoes, snap, match it cards. This second activity was included to ensure should the Bee-Bot not work that the children still had something to use
· an instruction leaflet for parents,
· an evaluation sheet for parents and children to fill in together and
· A badge for the child to keep.
We sourced some great boxes, which were large enough to fit all the items in, but small enough to fit into a supermarket carrier bag, so they could be carried home easily.
To inform the parents, a display was set up outside the four Nursery rooms and a letter sent to all the homes. This outlined the aims of the project and how it would be run. 10 children at a time would borrow a box for 5 days, giving me a 2 day window to check the boxes, refill with forms and badges and check the batteries of the bee-bots. Each class would take 3 weeks for everyone to borrow a box. !3 titles allowed even the last child to have a choice. I also ran informal workshops for parents in the mornings when they dropped off their children.
We are in the early stages of lending our swarm out this session, but the feedback from the evaluation sheets is positive, it is so rewarding reading the comments from parents describing how the whole family have enjoyed programming the Bee-Bot. Any negative comments have tended to be in the first couple of weeks and based on resource problems such as wrinkly mats! (Bee-Bot is not very heavy and so wrinkles in mats stop him moving). These were all really easy to sort out.
Parents have described many benefits from taking the boxes home, such as learning new vocabulary, developing sequencing skills, having fun as a family and developing a responsibility towards school equipment.
I have learnt so many lessons from this venture, but the most important has to be watching the confidence of the children develop. They were trusted to teach their family how to use the Bee-Bot. By the responses from the evaluations, most rose to the challenge, developing their own sequencing skills as well as developing a positive attitude towards early programming.