Tangible Kindergarten

Tangible Programming in Early Childhood:

Revising Developmental Assumptions through New Technologies TangibleK

This is a challenging time for early childhood education (K-2). On the one hand, there is increasing, federally-mandated pressure placed on the education of young children, particularly in the fields of math, science, engineering, and technology. On the other hand, there is growing concern to respect the developmental capabilities of young children when presenting such content.

The TangibleK project was an interdisciplinary, NSF-funded project that investigated the use of innovative new technology in early elementary school. In particular, the project focused on computer programming and robotics with the goal of understanding what is developmentally appropriate for young children in light of novel human-computer interaction techniques that provide more age-appropriate access to technology. We developed and piloted an innovative programming environment called CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming), a hybrid tangible/graphical computer language, in eight classrooms and numerous afterschool programs, reaching approximately 240 children.

TangibleK

At the heart of this proposal was the claim that, for a variety of reasons, modern graphical user interfaces (GUI) are ill-suited for use in early elementary school. Instead, this project set out to build a tangible user interface (TUI) technology to create a tangible programming language for young children. That is, rather than using a mouse of a keyboard to write programs to control robots, children instead constructed programs by connecting smart wooden blocks shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This approach created a unique opportunity to separate the intellectual act of computer programming from the confounding factors of modern GUIs and complex mechanical constructions. In turn, it provided a means to better understand the developmental capabilities of young children with respect to computer programming and robotics.

This project was supported by the National Science Foundation Advanced Learning Technology Grant No. DRL-0735657.

Research

The overarching goal of the Tangible Kindergarten project was to explore how we can help young children to develop computational thinking by engaging them in computer programming and robotics in a developmentally appropriate way. As part of this NSF funded grant we worked with over 240 kids, in eight classrooms, and numerous afterschool settings.

Our primary research objectives were:

  1. To provide a detailed, observation-based description of young children’s capacity to understanding computer programming and robotics concepts. We demonstrated that children could, given a developmentally-appropriate computer programming language, learn to program their own robotic artifacts and we discovered what are the concepts that are most difficult for them and how to teach them in a learning trajectory that would make the most sense. We also found that learning computer programming has a positive impact on sequencing skills in general. Please see our publications from this project for more information on our research findings.
  1. To describe how (and whether) the choice of interaction style affects children’s learning in the context of our curriculum units. We developed a hybrid interface for a developmentally appropriate robotics programming language, C.H.E.R.P.: Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming.
  1. To develop an online resource for early childhood educators interested in programming and robotics. To this end, we have developed a NING virtual community for early childhood teachers!
  1. To develop curriculum units, appropriate for kindergarten children, that provide a hands-on introduction to a selection of computer programming and robotics concepts and powerful ideas and that are integrated with math, science, social studies and language arts core curriculum frameworks. Curriculum Guides are available, by request.

Who Am I?

Who Am I? is a robotics and programming curriculum for early childhood that integrates foundational social studies topics. Each lesson includes a math, literacy, and social studies connection. The social studies connections are derived from the Common Core curriculum frameworks and focus on themes of diversity, culture, and identity. Topics such as family history, holidays, and customs from around the world are covered.

Robotic Animals

Robotic Animals is a robotics and programming curriculum for early childhood that integrates foundational Biology and Life Science topics. Each lesson includes a math, literacy, and biology connection. The biology connections are focused on animals and are derived from the Common Core curriculum frameworks. Topics such as characteristics of living/nonliving things, characterizing groups of animals, and human and animal senses are covered.

The Iditarod

The Iditarod is a robotics and programming curriculum for early childhood that integrates foundational history and social studies topics. Each lesson includes a math, literacy, and history connection. The history connections are focused on the Iditarod sled-dog race in Alaska and are derived from the Common Core curriculum frameworks. Topics such as maps, globes, time, and chronology are covered.

Transportation in the Community

Transportation in the Community is a robotics and programming curriculum for early childhood that integrates foundational Social Studies topics derived from the Common Core curriculum frameworks. Each lesson includes a math, literacy, and social studies connection. The curriculum focuses on the theme of transportation and covers topics such as jobs in the community, maps, community routines, and different types of vehicles that help people get around. 

The Playground

The Playground is a robotics and programming curriculum for early childhood that uses LEGO Wedo robotics construction sets. There are two versions of the curriculum: one that is tailored for Pre-K through Kindergarten and one that is tailored for 1st-2nd grade students. The curriculum focuses on the playground theme and has children build and program a variety of playground structures. Each lesson also includes math and literacy connections.