Coding and Technology in First Grade

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Coding and Technology in First Grade

Coding and Technology in First Grade


With the push to be more innovative and the constant drive to use more technology, teaching can easily become overwhelming.  Every day it seems like there are newer and better gadgets or devices being introduced before I have even had a chance to learn the “old” technology.

However, I have learned in my 19 years of teaching to remain calm and try one thing at a time.  I network on Twitter or Facebook so that I can learn from the mistakes and advice of others.  Most importantly I try to remember that technology by itself is not innovation, but a tool to help innovation happen.  Simply putting technology into classrooms is not enough.

I am in no means an expert on technology but, I would like to share some tools, devices, and activities that I have

used to introduce coding to my first-grade students.


Students need opportunities to use technology in ways that promote collaboration, problem solving, and creativity.


BeeBots in the Classroom


This year my first-grade teaching partners and I decided to add a coding station to our station rotations during small, guided reading group time.  Two to three students at a time are in the station.  

Together they work through a challenge that involves coding.  We started this station with BeeBots.  BeeBots are small, easy to code robots that look exactly like the name suggests, a bee.  Students enter a chain of code into the bot by pushing a series of buttons (left, right, forward, backward) on the BeeBot itself.  There is no need for a computer, USB cords, or other devices.  They run on rechargeable batteries and have a simple on/off switch.  



Bees, mazes and discovering the new world



The challenges I provide depends on our unit of study at the time.  For example, while studying apples and the important role bees play in the life cycle of apple trees, I created a challenge centered around the pollination of apple trees.

Using easy to remove painter’s tape, I created a maze on the floor.  At the opposite openings of the maze, I taped down a picture of an apple tree. The challenge was to program the BeeBot to find its way through the maze from one apple tree to the other. When we were studying explorers like Christopher Columbus, I put a boat cover on the BeeBot.  You can find premade BeeBot covers on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.  Instead of a maze, I taped off a large rectangle onto the floor.  At one end I taped a map of Spain and on the other end a map of San Salvador.


Between the two I spread out and taped down pictures of sea serpents, mermaids, and whales.  The challenge was to get the BeeBot (students renamed it “BoatBot” for this challenge) from Spain to San Salvador without running into the obstacles.  



Where to Find BeeBot Resources Online


We just finished our unit on bats, so the BeeBot got transformed into a “BatBot” by taping on a picture of a bat. The goal was to get the BatBot out of its cave and “eat” the insects before going back into the cave to roost.

I found on Pinterest some BeeBot directional cards to help the students see the directions the BeeBot needs to go.  Basically, they make a path using the cards.  They use the path they have laid out to input the code into the bot.  Pinterest and Teacher Pay Teacher are full of BeeBot activities you can use or can inspire you to create your own.  

I love seeing my kids collaborating, planning, and testing the plan.   When their code does not work as they had hoped, they must find where things went wrong, adjust, and try again.  


Sphero Sprk+ in the Classroom



Robust spheres which make learning fun for teacher and student!


We recently purchased Sphero Sprk+ robots for our first-grade classrooms.

They are a little more complicated than the BeeBot, but they are another wonderful way to learn basic coding.  These robots are sphere shaped and are pretty sturdy.  

They have held up to life in a first-grade classroom so far.  One even got accidentally kicked across the floor when one of my boys was not looking where he was walking.  At least as far as I can tell the Sphero survived the encounter.  



Introducing the Sphero Sprk+

The Spheros are controlled and code is entered through an iPad using a Bluetooth connection.  They come with their own charging station and USB cord.  The first time my students used it was simply to explore this new technology. Plus, I really did not know exactly how it worked so I figured my students would figure it out and let me know.

We explored the drive setting initially. This setting allows the user to drive the robot with a touch screen joy stick on the iPad.  In this setting students can adjust the color of the LED lights, which for a 6-year-old that is the coolest thing ever!  They learned how it moves and can even adjust the speed.


Computational Logic for 6 Year Olds

This little guy can move pretty fast, so I’ve had to put a speed limit of 40 on the Sphero.  Otherwise it zips around to quickly and becomes difficult for them to manage.  Then we played around with the code drawing feature.  In this feature, users are shown a grid, like graph paper, on the screen. With their fingers they can draw a path for the Sphero and hit “start.”  I again taped off a large square on the floor, so the students would learn how to keep the Sphero within a designated area.  

My first graders are learning just by playing with the drawing feature that speed can change the distance traveled.  They are measuring because they must determine how far the robot will go in just one square on the grid and apply that to the space I have provided them. We haven’t even come to our unit on measurement in math, but they are measuring none the less by doing what they think is playing with a robot.  Once they have become efficient at coding by drawing we will move onto the block coding feature of the Sphero Sprk+.  


Sphero and BeeBot – The right place to start for coding with kids


What I really love about this little robot is its differentiated coding ability.  The BeeBot has a fixed ability and is appropriate for grades kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Whereas the Sphero Sprk+ could be used from 1st grade through 6th grade.  The different levels of coding make this possible.  Did I mention it is water proof or at least water resistant?  I am thinking my next Sphero Sprk+ challenge will involve paint and writing words.  

As we learn cursive handwriting, students can write words on the screen of the iPad and hit “start” to make the Sphero run through paint and write the word on paper.  If you are interested in introducing coding to your first graders, the BeeBot and Sphero Sprk+ are a great place to start.


Written by Cindy Culwell


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