Control technology in the foundation stage

Jul 30, 2010

Miles Berry

Originally published in Issue 2 of the Computing at School newsletter, Switched On.

In the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) there’s a recognition that ICT includes more than desktop computers, with digital cameras, flip cameras, digital dictaphones and even photocopiers giving children a strong sense of the ubiquitous nature of stored program devices. The statutory Early Learning Goals state that by the end of EYFS, children should: “find out about and identify the uses of everyday technology and use information and  communication technology and programmable toys to support their learning.”

This lays a foundation on which much could later be built.

The programmable toy which has, more than any other, captured the imagination of pupils and practitioners is a smiley, yellow and black plastic robot that looks a little like a cartoon bee, called appropriately enough, the Bee-Bot.

Very young children can to learn to program a  Bee-Bot through play and experimentation, an approach advocated in EYFS guidance, inspired by Piaget’s and Papert’s pedagogies, and not that far removed from how we learn a new programming language or application package ourselves. Input consists of seven keys: forward and back, left and right turns, pause, clear and a round, green ‘go’ button. Bee-Bots are quite happy working one instruction at a time, trundling around the floor or any number of mats, numberlines, grids or pictures; they’re also light enough and small enough to be picked up, turned round and positioned by young hands, providing a degree of analogue interactivity!

As children become more familiar with a Bee-Bot, practitioners will encourage and challenge them to build up more complex programs of instructions, getting Bee-Bots to play the role of a postman, visiting lots of flowers, performing geometric dances, or even appearing in an episode of Dr Who. A little tail allows a pencil to be attached with a blob of Blu-Tack.

Whilst these don’t have the flexibility of a traditional floor turtle, they make up for this through the simplicity of their interface. Have a glance on You Tube for some of the things which children have made these fun, simple robots do.