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How Does a Five-year-old Learn Computational Thinking Skills?

It might just look like fun and games to the casual observer, but armed with iPads and Dash and Dot robots, kindergartners at DCD are doing some important developmental work building their computational thinking skills.

Beginning lessons involve talking about what makes a robot a robot and then exploring free form what you are able to make them do. Students learn how to move their bots and how to elicit sounds and lights based on different commands. Simple pattern identification and step sequencing form the building blocks for coding. In addition, requiring young students to work with a partner, we are also building in social and emotional learning as the children negotiate taking turns controlling and observing Dash and Dot’s actions.
 
Lessons progress into completing challenges. Can you make your robot travel a certain distance? Can you elicit a certain sound or light sequence or response from your robot? If the robot isn’t responding to your commands, what can you do? While students love to get their hands on iPads and bots because it’s just plain fun, what is really happening here is the beginning stages of computational thinking – pattern recognition (identifying and recognizing repeated sequences) algorithm writing (creating the recipe for the outcome you are trying to elicit), decomposition (breaking a problem into smaller parts) and debugging (testing different solutions to solving a problem).
 
In pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, our students are predominantly using visual cues to understand and code and, won’t really see the complexity of building and debugging an algorithm perhaps until middle school. And that’s ok because, at this point, the goal is also to encourage curiosity and teach them that there are many things to do with technology beyond just hopping on an app to play a game!


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