Robots! An Unexpected S.T.E.M. Moment in Preschool

S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is ‘on the list’ for educators.  America has been playing catch-up.

Preschoolers?  Yes, they love science and exploring.  Yes, they love their devices.  Yes, they love building and figuring it out.  Yes, they love numbers and counting.

But… once in a while, an opportunity comes along to really bring S.T.E.M. to life.  That happened this week at school.  We’re learning about Africa.  I pulled out the iPad at lunchtime to show children a video of a safari Jeep.

Here is what ‘accidentally’ popped up (thank goodness):

Forget lunch.  I was out of my seat like a hot potato showing this video to the children.  The conversation went like this:

“Who likes robots?”

Every hand shot up into the air.

“Did you know that you can build a robot?”

Silence.

“Yes, you can!”

All the while during this conversation I am walking over to the children, panning the video in front of them.

You can build a robot!  Do you like science?” (Yes!)  “Do you like building things?” (Yes!)  “Do you like numbers and counting?” (Yes!)  That’s STEM; science, technology, engineering and math.  Do you want to make robots?” (Yes!)  “You can!”

We stopped often to look closely at the robots.  The dog was a favorite.  And whenever a child asked, “How did they do that?”, the question was music to my ears.

The children couldn’t get enough of this.  So, we wrote a letter to Boston Dynamics, the company who made the robots.  Here are the children’s words and their robot drawings:

Of course I followed through with my own teacher letter.  I wanted to tell them- while they may think this is fun with robots, they are actually inspiring future engineers.  Why?  Because learning needs to be fun in order to educate children.

I love moments of teaching, where the world of possibilities comes alive for children.  Children need to hear that they can.  Children need a champion.

The next day I was ready to show the safari Jeep at our Morning Meeting.  “Jennie, can we see the robot video instead?”  Of course.  Children have since asked for this video repeatedly.  Frankly, it is a giant magnet.

Even at rest time, children want to wake up to the robots.

Children know in order to build robots you have to be good at math. We do math activities every day, but we have ramped it up:

“Can you count the number of children, just with your eyes?  No words and no pointing with your finger.  Can you do that?”  Yes this was hard.  We had much pre-planning and practice, yet it isn’t easy.  Building robots isn’t easy either.

We rolled one die, then said aloud the number of dots.  This is subitizing, knowing how many without counting.  It is hard.  Building a robot is hard, too.

Suddenly math is a much bigger interest.  Music and robots can do that.  Just look at what we built after our math activities.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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84 Responses to Robots! An Unexpected S.T.E.M. Moment in Preschool

  1. Thanks for sharing
    Stay wealthy healthy safe and happy

  2. Loku says:

    Interesting and inspiring. I watched that one month before and I can see it on many blogs, yours is one. Good luck 👍.

  3. Amazing! Such a great time and opportunity to tap their imagination… and to instill love for science, math, and technology! ❤️

  4. The excitement of the children is palpable in this post! At the other end of the spectrum, I see adult college students so math-phobic they refuse to take it until right before they graduate.

    • Jennie says:

      This is definitely both ends of the spectrum! If college students could only see that the end result can actually be fun.

      When I showed the video to hubby he said, “John Aiken worked for Boston Dynamics.” I never knew that. He was a great friend, brilliant (which few people picked up on) and lived life to the fullest. I have to wonder if he had anything to do with this. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when those engineers picked the song!!

      • These students are adults, so their math phobia has been deeply ingrained from a young age.

        Yes, it would have been a lot of fun to witness the discussion of an appropriate song, as well as the choice of dancing to demonstrate this advance in robotics.

      • Jennie says:

        Yes, math phobia starts early on. That’s so sad. I am definitely a member of the ‘math phobia club.’ I still remember a few ah-ha moments, mostly with hands on materials, but they were few and far between.

        Oh, yes…to be at that meeting when they picked the song and the dancing. They must have let the old engineers pick the song and the young engineers pick the dancing. It worked!

      • My math aha moment didn’t come until I was in college, when I realized that math is a language, a language I’m not fluent in. I now have spreadsheet phobia: I can’t do anything with that spreadsheet. It’s just a bunch of numbers in little boxes. I need sentences.

      • Jennie says:

        A language? I am still waiting for your math aha moment! 😅

      • For me, it’s a language in the sense that it’s symbols representing physical objects and abstract concepts.

      • Jennie says:

        I understand. It just made the math phobia in me smile. Best to you, Liz.

      • Thanks for the clarification, Jennie!

  5. it is so exciting and engaging for children to see the why of learning. why do we learn math, why do we want you to build and engineer. what does this do for me beyond what I’m doing today. helping children make these connections early will help them later see that what they learn and do in school will help them later in life

  6. quiall says:

    I have enjoyed that video immensely! And I can see why it would engage children. It will be interesting to see if that company responds to their letters.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Pam. I love the video as much as the children do. Of course the song was one of my first R&B favorites (but Boston Dynamics doesn’t know that). The company is local, so I hope they respond. The children would be thrilled. If they do, I will definitely post it.

  7. Darlene says:

    I so agree, learning needs to be fun in order to educate children. My grade three teacher, Miss Roll, made learning fun and I learned more that year than all the rest. She was also the person who encouraged me to write and to travel the world. She was well ahead of her time. I had many other good teachers but she was the one that made a notable impression on me. I love how you grab onto those teachable moments. xo

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, if learning can be fun the sky is the limit. I think you have written before about Miss Roll. She inspired your class with music, right? What a gift she was to children, and definitely well ahead of her time. Encouraging children is so important, and she knew. You are proof! Grabbing onto those teachable moments is what I do! Thank you, Darlene.

      • Darlene says:

        Yes, I have written about Miss Roll a few times. I’m sure your students will be talking about you for a long time as well. In fact, many of them have come back to your class as young adults. That speaks volumes.

      • Jennie says:

        That’s so nice to say, Darlene. Miss Roll leaves big shoes to fill. Thank you! 🥰

  8. That’s exciting and inspiring, Jennie! I’m sure the company making the dancing robot was thrilled to receive your class letter.

    The kids are the future.

  9. Dan Antion says:

    “How did they do that?” – That’s one of the best questions!

  10. beetleypete says:

    Fantastic, Jennie. Imspiring the inventors of the future.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  11. That was truly amazing, Jennie. You’ve inspired future scientists throughout your class. I was impressed too, and I’m much older than five. What I kept wondering about was how the two-legged robots could keep their balance so well. Fantastic video. Thanks for sharing it. I hope you let Gloria watch it so the kids can talk to her about it.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the video! It really is amazing. And the dog! Gloria loved it, too. You never know when a child will become inspired, and this is one that can do just that. Thanks, Anneli.

  12. Your classroom is so much fun. Have Boston Robotics written back, now that would be so awesome.

  13. This vid is a fav of the fam…youngest son (only son!) tinkered with the first set of Lego Robots on the market (a pricey b-day gift!!!) back in the day and he’s working on a spider bot using 3-d copier components and other techie scraps he has on hand as I speak! HA!
    Part of our basement was his ‘lab’ domain during his growing up years and the best memories I have of his experiments were during his days in Middle School in ‘John’s Lab’ an after school set of rooms in the basement (where else?) of the school filled with old oscilloscopes, computer parts and other scavanged stuff etc etc that John (an older techie gent volunteer) supplied himself.
    Soooooo I hope your kiddos get a John’s Lab guy in later education along with basement space at home!!!! You’re wetting their appetite for sure, teacher!

    • Jennie says:

      What a great story! Way to go, John. Here’s to all the John teachers who can do more than just inspire, and provide real tools and teaching. Those middle schools years are huge for learning. Yes, let’s hope they get a John’s lab.

  14. Excellent, Jennie. We must interest our children in STEM. What a great way to do it. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Mireya says:

    Cool and did the preschoolers write that letter too! I say preschool and kinder are the times because we imagine, dream and are curious. I still try to be.

  16. Magic moments! Must share! 🙂 xo

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    Learning needs to be fun is the overall theme of your post for me, Jennie. When the teacher has fun with his/her students, the kids get even more engaged. That’s why things like Rapper Jennie will always work. What a great great example of using STEM in a preschool classroom!

    • Jennie says:

      You’re right, Pete. It’s when the teacher is excited, too. Children pick up on that. Here’s to sharing our joy and getting kids more engaged, says Rapper Jennie. 🙂 That robot song was my first R&B love, so there’s another opportunity to get kids excited to learn. Sally will have a story about that song at the end of the month.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    I always loved math as a kid because it was connected to an activity I loved–cooking. I needed fractions a lot. During the one year(I hate middle school)I taught in a team at a middle school I ended up teaching math because the rest of the team was math phobic. I snuck in a lot of math with things like logic games, chess and card games. Math required but not obviously.

    • Jennie says:

      ‘Math required but not obviously’. Yes!! You hit the nail on the head, and I love this phrase. There are so many ways to sneak in math and make it fun. If it’s connected with an activity, children learn. If it’s not fun or sneaky by middle school, then math phobic becomes the norm. Fractions and cooking can be done at school. Every preschooler should play UNO.

      By the way, do you know the game Blokus? You need to play this with your grandchild. It seems simple, but it’s math. No numbers. It is the #1 favorite at school with older kids, and also with my grandchildren. I can’t say enough about this game.

  19. Jennie, I love this video — and I pos-i-lutely love what you did with this post. Stay happy and sassy.
    Hugs on the wing!

  20. Norah says:

    That’s the best kind of learning, Jennie, and I love that video of robots dancing. I look forward to reading the response to your letters.

  21. What a great idea. I am sure you now some times will to have a real small robot in the classroom too. Or you have to visit a laboratory with them. 😉 Michael

  22. Pingback: Robots! An Unexpected S.T.E.M. Moment in Preschool – Pathway to Succes

  23. This is a great video, Jennie. John Rieber posted yesterday about a robot dog that is designed to keep lonely people company. It is amazing what people can make with modern technology.

  24. Annika Perry says:

    Yeah! I now want to build a robot! 😀😀 Wonderful to see their enthusiasm! 😀

  25. rhubarbsrowe says:

    Only because its 2021 we won’t be asking ‘WHAT IS HAPPENING’! What a great post.

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