In southeast Arizona, the robin is not the harbinger of spring—instead it is the White-winged Dove or Hooded Oriole. In spite of temperatures already approaching 90-degrees, spring is marked by the arrival of breeding bird species and yellow wildflowers blooming with the help of winter rains and snow melt from the high mountain peaks.
After a recent move from New England (in part because of the abundance of birding hotspots in Arizona), Dorothy Fitch accepted the position of running the brand-new computer lab at the K–2 Sahuarita Primary School, just south of Tucson.
With no curriculum in place, she was able to choose what the students would do. As a long-time Logo enthusiast, she wondered how she might share her love of both Logo and birds with her students.
She got in touch with Terrapin Software to see current offerings. As an ideal Logo manipulative, the Bee-Bots would be just the thing! She wrote a grant to cover the purchase of Terrapin Logo, Bee-Bots and activity mats, Focus on Bee-Bot simulation software, and Crystal Rain Forest. After reading the grant proposal, her principal decided not to wait until December for possible funding and came up with money to pay for these items immediately.
The next challenge was to implement a robotics program with over 700 students. Thirty-two classes of 20–28 students come to the computer lab for one-half hour once a week. The Grade One and Two students were first introduced to Bee-Bot using the Focus on Bee-Bot software. This gave them practice moving the on-screen robot. For this initial session, the green “footsteps” in the software were turned on so that every time they clicked a command button, Bee-Bot would respond. Imagine their delight when she showed them the actual Bee-Bots that they would use the following week!
On “Bee-Bot Days,” the class is divided in half, a strategy designed to reduce wait time between turns. Half the students independently use computer activities, while the rest take turns using Bee-Bots. After fifteen minutes, the groups switch places. Four activity mats take up the limited floor space in the computer lab. A Bee-Bot is assigned to each. Two to four students take turns using each Bee-Bot. They work as a team, going over the instructions for each activity together, identifying the target destination, and helping each other figure out the right sequence of commands. For many there are cheers when Bee-Bot arrives at its destination, while others shake their heads, initially complaining that Bee-Bot didn’t do what they told it to do. What great problem-solving tools these small robots are!
Ready to incorporate her love of birds and share that information with her students, Dorothy went to the Internet to find photos of local birds, mostly from her backyard bird list, just a few miles from the school. She labeled and printed two sets of 36 bird photos and laminated one set. She slid the unlaminated pictures under the clear vinyl of the Card Mat, holding them in place with double-sided tape. Now each bird was in a position to which Bee-Bot could navigate.
Kindergarten students look at the photos and then program Bee-Bot to “go to a red bird” or “go to a bird that is flying in the sky” or “go to a bird that is perched in a tree.” They are using their color identification skills as well as learning rudimentary habits of some of the most common birds they might see.
First and second graders pick a laminated photo labeled with the bird’s name and guide Bee-Bot to the matching bird on the mat. The next step for second graders will be to use clues about the bird (color, bill shape and size, and other field marks) to navigate Bee-Bot to the bird that fits that description.
Above the beeping sounds of Bee-Bots being programmed is often heard, “I’ve seen that bird here,” “The roadrunner is my favorite bird,” or “My aunt has a bird feeder. I want one at my house!” They like reading the names of the birds and want to know more about them.
Another Card Mat is filled with drawings of dinosaurs. Second graders were disappointed that dinosaurs were not part of their classroom curriculum this year, so this mat helps to fill the void.
Just after the Bee-Bots arrived, the assistant superintendent of schools made an impromptu visit to the computer lab. It was a wonderful opportunity to explain how the robots could help students practice spatial awareness, sequencing, and problem-solving. He asked how it might connect to the curriculum and was impressed with the variety of mats that would reinforce the students’ math, spelling, reading, and mapping skills. He said that they must have been expensive and was surprised and impressed with the value that the Bee-Bots represented.
The long-term goal is to encourage other teachers to borrow Bee-Bots and activity mats and use them with their students to practice the skills they are working on in the classroom. For now, everyone at the school is excited that the students are doing so many different types of activities in the new computer lab. And what activity do the students look forward to the most? Bee-Bots!