It's all about the basics for kindergartners: numbers, letters … and programming?
The Pinellas County school district, which starts classes on Thursday, has found a way to introduce the fundamentals of computer coding to its youngest learners this year. The district has purchased 100 "Bee-Bots" to be used in kindergarten classrooms throughout the county.
The learning toys are part of a new district initiative and a growing trend to get kids familiar and interested in coding — an expanding and lucrative career.
"With kindergartners, everything is experiential," said Shana Rafalski, Pinellas' executive director for elementary education. "If you make it fun, that's the background knowledge you're going to build off of when you reintroduce it later on."
Students use arrow keys on the bees' backs to program which direction they want the bee to go, which teaches them how to program a basic set of commands. The keys can be used to enter 40 commands, sending the Bee-Bot on its way in six-inch steps and 90 degree turns.
The Bee-Bot website describes the toy as a "friendly little robot" that helps teach sequencing, estimation and problem-solving.
This, Rafalski said, primes students for more complicated coding tasks.
She said some teachers have attended coding sessions to get familiar with the idea. Students will not be assessed on how they program the bees, nor will the Bee-Bots be a feature in the everyday curriculum, she said. But she hopes to one day incorporate basic coding into math classes.
While the demand for computer programmers is expected to decrease over the next few years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, other computer-related occupations like computer systems analysts are expected to increase by 33 percent by 2024.
"Knowing how to code is something that's really important in the workforce," Rafalski said.
Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.