DML: Tangible Programming in Kindergarten: Revisiting Developmental Assumptions through Learning Robotics


This workshop explores the incorporation of new technologies into early childhood education to teach about our increasingly technological world. Participants in this workshop will build and program their own robots while learning about and discussing pedagogies that support the digital literacies of the 21st Century. We will use a developmentally appropriate tangible/graphical hybrid programming environment that is intuitive enough for a four-year-old to learn, yet still fun for adults!

Every day children encounter new technologies that “know” what is going on – such as automatic paper towel dispensers – but very little is taught to young children about or with digital, electronic, and embedded technologies (Bers, 2008). In fact, there is increasing concern about the developmental impact of technological toys on young children.

This workshop is based on the research of the TangibleK(indergarten) project, an interdisciplinary, NSF-funded project to investigate the early childhood use of an innovative technology which allows children to create and program personal robotic objects rather than consume pre-made content. The goal of the research is to expand definitions of what is developmentally appropriate for young children and to explore what children can accomplish with new technologies designed especially for them.

The TangibleK project encompasses a 20-hour curriculum and a programming environment called CHERP (Creative Hybrid Environment for Robotic Programming), a hybrid tangible/graphical language for programming robots such as LEGO® Mindstorms™. CHERP programs are constructed using interlocking wooden blocks labeled with child-friendly icons and/or their corresponding on-screen counterparts. The curriculum has been tested in laboratory, camp, and classroom settings.

This workshop will begin with an introduction to the TangibleK work. Then participants will work in teams to complete a robotics challenge from our curriculum, such as programming a robot to dance to a song. Teams will share their projects, and time will be allotted for discussion, feedback, and questions.

We hope to see programs and pedagogies in the spirit of TangibleK implemented nationally. This workshop is an opportunity for conference attendees to think about ways of incorporating 21st century skills, materials, and attitudes into developmentally appropriate learning experiences for young children, as well as to engage in a thought-provoking and fun way of computer programming!