Jackie McPherson has 15+ years of experience in the early childhood education field. Her experience has been spread across different early childhood education environments, from public preschool to a college campus preschool. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and a Master’s degree in Reading Instruction. She currently works in a government-funded preschool, Garfield Community School in Livonia, Michigan. She recently had the opportunity to speak on a panel at SXSW EDU on ‘What Do Early Childhood Teachers Want From Tech?’ You can watch the discussion here and follow Jackie on Twitter.
Experiences. That is what we strive to give our students each and every day. Experiences that will help them navigate the world. Experiences that will bring them joy. Experiences that will expose them to concepts that will become a part of their everyday lives. This is what I strive for when choosing materials for my youngsters to explore. The world is changing and skills that our students will need to master are sometimes skills that we, as teachers, don’t possess. However, it is still so important for us to expose our young children to materials and experiences that help them begin to discover these skills.
This is why I was so excited to find Cubetto. I will be honest, I was a little hesitant at first. I mean, I’m an early childhood teacher, not a computer programmer, or a software developer. I knew nothing about coding. But I knew I wanted to expose my students to coding because maybe one of them will become a computer programmer or software developer! So I nervously unboxed my Cubetto, maps, stories and control board. My students and I quickly installed batteries, and I thought we were good to go, Wrong!
The curriculum I use in my classroom is very child-directed. Students get lots of time each day to explore materials and activities that I put out for them. So I did what I do with any other manipulative or STEM box: I made a cute bucket for Cubetto, put all his pieces together, and set him out on a shelf. I was disappointed after a few days when none of my students were getting Cubetto out. So I did what any teacher would do, I got it out, set it on a table and waited. This leads me to my first tip…
Tip #1: Make sure you, as the teacher, are familiar with Cubetto before you put it out for your students to explore!
I was not up to speed at all with coding, or how each piece really worked. My students could sense my lack of knowledge, so they did not get engaged. So I spent an afternoon studying, ie playing with Cubetto after school. This helped me dramatically. Once I understood how Cubetto worked, I was able to expand my ideas on how to use it my classroom.
So the next time a student got Cubetto out, I was able to model for them how each part worked and how to use the maps. I had a group of children quickly show interest and worked hard to get Cubetto to move from place to place. After a bit, I noticed that each child had their own challenges and conquests while using Cubetto. Leading me to my next piece of advice…
Tip #2: Let each child explore Cubetto at their own pace
Coding is hard work for a little brain. So let each child develop their thinking about Cubetto over time. Some students will just want to put pieces into the control board and take them out, strengthening their fine motor skills. While others may catch on to the way they can manipulate the pieces and even use the function option to make Cubetto do as they wish. Each child is being exposed to an important experience for them. Let them. Don’t try to get all your students to understand the coding aspect right away. Give each child the time to learn.
As time went on I observed that I only had a handful of students exploring with Cubetto on a regular basis. I wanted more of my students to be exposed to this amazing product, so my next tip is based on that mission.
Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to demonstrate Cubetto at a large group time
Sometimes I think children get so engrossed in their ‘routine’ at school that they don’t want, or even think about trying something new. I only have one Cubetto at the moment, so a small group exploration wasn’t an option. By getting Cubetto out at a large group time, I was able to pull in those students who were ‘stuck’ at the art area or the block area. I had students ‘ohhhing’ and ‘ahhing’ over what I showed them. I went through each function piece, how to turn the robot on and off, and how to use the maps. You better believe the next day most of my students took a turn with Cubetto.
Tip #4: Make learning aids that suit your students
After some time I noticed my students struggled to remember what each coding piece meant. Was the yellow left or right? What did the blue piece do? I knew in the Teacher’s Guide that there was a page with visual directions for each piece. I simply created this larger, into poster format, so the students were able to use Cubetto more efficiently on their own. This helped a ton! Print directions, function keys, or any other aid that will help your students be successful on their own.
Finally, you always have to expand students’ learning, or way of thinking about materials you have in your room. Cubetto is no exception. There are so many ways in which you can use him to expand other areas of your classroom.
Tip #5: Get creative with Cubetto
My class is big on two things right now art and building. I thought about how I could incorporate coding into those areas of play. For art I recently taped markers to Cubetto and the children programed him to draw on a large piece of paper. The children have chosen this activity multiple times a day. For my building friends, we have coded Cubetto to explore real blueprints and move from area to area. Think outside of the box, or in the case, Cubetto! He is not limited to his maps. He can move anywhere! Take him to the gym. Take him outside. Dress him up in costumes created by students and put on a play. Have students ‘write’ or dictate their own stories about Cubetto. The ideas are endless. Don’t be afraid to bring coding into other areas of your curriculum.
Coding is such a challenging concept to teach early childhood children. Primo Toys has done an excellent job in creating materials that your children are able to use freely throughout the day. They gain coding experience that will help them understand the digital world they are growing up in. Cubetto has been not only fun, but functional in my classroom. I hope to continue to bring Primo Toys materials into my classroom to give my students a variety of experiences, because experiences are what matters in early childhood education!