Elementary Robotics Here – How It All Started

When I came to the Williamsburg Schools eight years ago, there was an established robotics program for sixth graders, which I continued.  It was based on the older Lego RCX robots, which were problem prone.  A grade 1/2 teacher and I were interested in a robot that would work with younger kids as well as a replacment for the RCX robots.  So when the Lego NXT (for middle school) and the WeDo (for elementary school) robots were announced, I bought some kits right away and started using them in different grades.  Later, I learned about BeeBots at a conference and it hit me that we could now have robotics in every grade level from preschool to grade 6.

After a year or so of using robots across the grades and figuring out a scope and sequence, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a technology grant program that originated from the federal stimulus money.  So I got together a group of 8 (mostly) local school districts and wrote a 2 year, $200,000 grant to teach forty teachers the Lego WeDo for elementary or Lego Mindstorms NXT for middle school robotics.  It went very well and  about 1500 students directly benefited in those 2 years.

At the same time, I thought about my own practice.  What would it look like to have students coming out of sixth grade with seven years of robotics experience?  What are the developmental stages of engineering knowledge for younger kids?  How do elementary schools support (or not) the natural engineering instincts of young kids as builders and explorers and engineers that they possess as preschoolers and kindergarten students?  Would our program influence students to be interested in STEM fields?

So I used all the successes (and missteps) here to design and document a preschool to grade 6 Elementary Engineering Curriculum (available on the kidsengineer.com Resources page), which we have implemented here in Williamsburg and are still refining.  I also obtained  the resources (with help from the Williamsburg Trust Fund) for parents to start First Lego League (FLL) Teams after school.  We now have 1 FLL and 2 FLL, Jr teams here in our rural town of 2500.  Our first and oldest team has moved onto Hampshire Regional Middle School and is competing for the first time this year.  A sister school, New Hingham, in Chesterfield-Goshen, is also in the process of implementing a full K to 6 engineering program based on robotics with assistance from Williamsburg and is also starting afterschool robotics clubs.   After attending some conferences, I found out that our program was very innovative (even internationally).  Currently, I am seeking additional funding and higher education researchers to spread the idea and study the effects of elementary engineering based on robotics.

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4 Responses to Elementary Robotics Here – How It All Started

  1. Robin Mitchell says:

    I am a parent at Treadway Elementary School in Leesburg, Florida who is interesed in starting a robotics club at our school. I have no idea how to get started. What do you suggest I do to get such an exciting and rewarding program up and running for the students here? We have no funding in place as we are not a title 1 school, but all suggestions would be welcomed to make this happen. Thank you for your time and attention.

  2. JohnHeffernan says:

    Get money for your PTO for LEGO WeDo Kits? If you have someone to teach it, they could use my book or you could use the WeDo Teacher’s Guide…

  3. JohnHeffernan says:

    Look on the LEGO Education North America web site for prices. You would need a kit for every 2 kids; they work in teams of 2 best.

  4. Robin Mitchell says:

    Thank you for your reply.

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