Since 2015 we have researched the experiences of educators in kindergartens and how young children develop their play and solve problems creatively. Aware that ‘in recent years there has been an increasing focus on the missing ‘‘T’’ of technology and ‘‘E’’ of engineering in early childhood STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula, we approached two kindergarten teachers who we have worked with on other projects, to seek the teachers’ understandings of how to incorporate robotics into their regular program. It has become apparent through a range of European research that many early childhood educators lack confidence in teaching digital technologies such as robotics as well as ‘developing appropriate pedagogies for integrating them into the learning environment (Murcia, Campbell & Aranda 2018: 256). Despite the issues that educators have, children are quick to engage with digital technologies. Sullivan and Bers (2016) notion that robotics offer a playful and tangible way for children to engage with both T and E concepts during their foundational early childhood years became immediately apparent to us as we watched the children at play with Bee-bots. The Bee-bot is a small programmable floor robot (Albion, Campbell & Jobling 2018:80) that teaches basic control, directional language and simple programming whilst making noises and movement. They can apply engineering skills by building bridges for the Bee-bots to travel over or mazes for the Bee-bots to pass through. Having set out to understand how robotics can engage children in technology at an early, we aimed to understand how the teacher pedagogy would influence the understanding of how to implement the usage of this small robot in the classroom.
Research in the use of digital technologies in early childhood remains an emergent field, particularly on teacher pedagogy as often the research is an examination on the impact the robots have on children and their play (see for example Sullivan & Bers 2016 and Walsh & Campbell 2017). One advantage of the use of digital technologies such as robotic devices is that their function in ‘capturing significant moments when children are immersed in learning experiences (Preston 2018:149).’ Our own observations complimented that of Preston’s as we observed the children at play with the Bee-bot but also the teachers teaching how the Bee-bot is coded to move. It allowed to us see how teachers and young children make connections to the real world and to their own homes. This aligns with what Murcia, Campbell and Aranda have observed (2018:254) where teachers can support children’s collaborative and communicative skills and build perseverance and effective social interactions by introducing Bee-bots into their classrooms.
The research question we considered was: How does teacher pedagogy influence the way children interact with bee-bots? For the purposes of this presentation, we will draw upon examples of two case studies based upon teachers’ different approaches to teaching robotics using Bee-bots. One took a hands-on approach, directing the students on how to use the Bee-bots through their own body movement. The other teacher took a far more hands-off approach, allow the children to simply explore and develop their own understanding of how to use the robot. The observations of the implications of the teacher pedagogy form the analysis of this presentation.
To undertake this study, the project employed a qualitative methodology (Tashakkori & Teddlie 1998; 2010). The paper is part of a broader study on how robotics and STEM is experienced in Australian kindergartens and the place in early years learning and pedagogy of small devices that can be coded. We have employed an ethnographic approach at times, becoming participant observers, taking field notes, and conducting individual teacher interviews. Teachers involved were approached and provided with a short session on how to actually use the bee-bots themselves. Some teaching material accompanied the bee-bot packages – directional arrows on cards and a floor mat that could allow the bee-bot to move across a grid. Data were collected using voice recorders and iPads during semi-structured interviews and conversations based upon video recordings, photographs and fieldwork observations. The research method used here was also informed by Malinowski’s (1922) anthropological methodology of participant observation and rich ethnographic description. It was impossible not to interact with the children as the observation sessions would occur over full kindergarten sessions lasting three to four hours. Being in the setting for this length of time caused the researcher to become immersed in the setting, getting down on the floor and working with the children to observe the children’s learning experiences. There were even times when children would actively seek to draw the researcher into their use of the robotic device and share their discovery with the researchers. In our research we were limited in how we could incorporate the children’s ‘voice.’ We could not interview the children as we were restricted by ethics to only observe the children and collect interview data from educators. Ethics approval was gained and procedures put in place following the university’s Human Research Ethics protocols. Participation in the research was voluntary and signed consent by the kindergarten organisation, and its teachers was gained. Consent included anonymity of all participants (pseudonyms have been used throughout this paper to ensure that anonymity), secure and timely data storage, and rights to withdraw consent and participation.
Our data analysis approach employed a case study methodology so we could understand the teacher pedagogy from our first case study teacher then apply our observations and interview data to the second case. The Case Study A teacher in her first lesson followed a process that involved: Introduction to robots in general terms; Introduction of directional concepts and language, use of arrows to illustrate; Introduction to bee-bot and its capabilities – as a floor demonstration and: Free play for small groups of four children with four bee-bots. In her second lesson, the Case Study A teacher: revisited the bee-bots and language; allowed the children to act out robot movements themselves using arrows placed on floor and through teacher commands and; then allowed free play for small groups of four children with four bee-bots. The teacher had a definite plan for working with the children and introducing them to robotics, however, not everything went as expected. This was due in part to the children’s lack of prior knowledge and understanding of robots, but also due to a mismatch in the flow of instruction. This resulted in the free-play with the bee-bots being little more than most children using them as ‘push’ toys. After the second session working with the children, the teacher worked through the children more (using their own body movements to learn and understand the directional commands), resulting in children approaching the bee-bots as programmable toys and demonstrating the ability to move the bee-bot as required. Note : Data is still being collected for Case study Two and will be presented at the conference.
Albion, P. Campbell, C. & Jobling, W. 2018. Technologies education for the primary years. South Melbourne, Cengage Learning Australia. Campbell, C. & Walsh, C. 2017. Introducing the 'new' digital literacy of coding in the early years. Practical Literacy 22(3): 10-12. Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Murcia, K, Campbell, C & Aranda, G. 2018. Trends in Early Childhood Education Practice and Professional Learning with Digital Technologies. Pedagogika 68(3): 249-264. Preston, C. 2018. STEM Education in early childhood in Campbell, C., Jobling, W. & Howitt, C. (eds.) Science in early childhood 3rd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Sullivan, A. & Bers, M.U. 2016. Robotics in the early childhood classroom: learning outcomes from an 8-week robotics curriculum in pre-kindergarten through second grade. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 26(1):3-20. Tashakkori, A. & Teddlie, C. 1998. Mixed Methodology: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, SAGE. Tashakkori, A. & Teddlie, C. (eds.) 2010. SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behavioral Research. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, SAGE.
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