What does what its told, always moves in six inch increments, and holds the fascination of students? It’s a BeeBot, a small plastic robotic bee gaining popularity in classrooms all over the world.
I did a staff training on the use of BeeBots by setting up an obstacle course challenge that required them to work in teams. I gave very little instruction, deciding instead to let them learn cooperatively on the fly. The training concluded with a “race” to see who could a) program the BeeBot through the course while staying within the challenge parameters, and b) get to the finish line first.
The training was a lot of fun and by all accounts successful. Teachers were energized about the possibilities this tool could bring to their classrooms.
There’s always that one teacher, though, that doesn’t buy in. He was straightforward with me. What else could he do with it besides build a route?
This question bothered me because I didn’t have a good answer. I chewed on it all weekend, wondering just what I could tell him. It took me a couple of days and a nice long bike ride to figure it out. Here’s what I came up with:
Like most tech tools, BeeBots have uses at multiple levels of pedagogy.
At the most basic level, they are engagement tools- ways to grab and keep students’ attention for a period of time. They can provide a fun way to provide drill and practice activities for students. Their ability to address multiple learning styles helps students stay on task when using them in the classroom.
At this level, they are helpful in teaching and reinforcing skills like counting, estimating, sequencing and directionality.
But, like any tool, they become toys if we don’t provide a way to use them for higher-order thinking and problem-solving. Toys are fun for a while but without some increased functionality in either the toy or the way we play with them, they are soon relegated to the bottom of the toy box.
That’s why it’s important to leverage the opportunities that BeeBots bring to the classroom. To up the ante, we need to think about how we can provide problem-solving challenges to our students. The BeeBots become a visible way to see student thinking. They provide a means for collaboration within the task of finding viable solutions. Students may come to see new talents within themselves and their classmates. You may too.
When using BeeBots, less is better. Don’t feel as though you have to teach students how to use them. Give them to students and give them time to figure out how they work. Let them explore the functions of the buttons and figure out how the program is stored and cleared.
- Have students create a “BeeBot Code of Conduct” that outlines guidelines for acceptable use. Post this so they can refer back to it as needed.
- Use the BeeBots in centers/small groups so each student will have an opportunity to participate. Large groups mean some students will be left to watch while others participate.
- Create open-ended challenges that require problem solving and collaboration.
- Have students develop a system to record their code for each challenge. This can be written or designed with the use of control cards. This will encourage them to analyze mistakes and compare successful solutions. This also requires them to represent their thinking with symbols.
- Provide ways for groups to share their solution process.
- Build in ways for students to create their own challenges to share with peers
- Build in enough time for trial and error.
Ready to jump in? Check out BeeBot Resources for ideas for challenges.