KIBO: How ‘Bots Can Teach Tots


When I think of robots, my mind immediately jumps to science fiction. The Power Rangers and the Zord bots, the self-aware and intelligent machines of The Matrix and The Terminator movies, and even Doctor Who’s enemy: the Cyberman.

Your daily commute 10 years from now.

Your daily commute 10 years from now.

But robots are not something that must perpetually live in the distant and fictional future.

Technology is moving at such an astounding rate that my dream of owning and programming a robot is closer than you may think.

As our technology advances, STEM curriculum and technological literacy are increasingly important fields in the classroom that force students and teachers alike to adapt. But with such advanced and challenging topics, how do you start teaching? Last semester at Tufts University I took a class about the changing dynamics between technology and education in modern society. In this class we experimented with a new way to teach children about robotics, programming, and so much more. That project was KIBO.

KIBO

Created by KinderLabs and Tuft University’s DevTech research group, KIBO (pronounced KEY-bo) is a robot kit specifically designed for children aged 4-7 years old. Using the programming language CHERP, KIBO appeals to children in both its intuitive design and flexible programming. Using scannable “command” blocks and a variety of sensors (which react to light, sound, distance, etc.), KIBO makes programming a tangible, age-appropriate, and enjoyable activity.

This past spring Tufts students, myself included, tested KIWI (KIBO’s predecessor and prototype) in a classroom setting.  

We integrated the robots with the current unit the children were learning about (the Iditarod). In this video you will see not only how the robots work, but also the challenges and rewards that this unique learning approach yields.

All of the robot’s movements and designs seen in the video were created solely by these 6 and 7 year-olds. Young children learn by doing. Trial and error (along with a smidgen of guidance from us) led children to create projects tailored to their specific wants and needs. Children can build their own robot with KIBO, program it to do what they want, and decorate it. It gives children the chance to make their ideas physical and tangible—exactly what their young minds and bodies need. And KIBO does all this without requiring any “screen-time” from PCs, tablets, or smartphones.

The unique benefit these robots offer is their flexibility and integration with virtually any curriculum. Combining KIBO’s programming capabilities with decorations and a bit of imagination, students can produce almost anything. Past uses include: carousels, figure skating, and even hula dancing!

kibo_kickstarter

As of now, KIBO is not available for commercial purchase, but KinderLabs is trying to change that. Through an ongoing Kickstarter Campaign, they hope to raise enough money to fund production on a large scale and bring it to the classrooms and children who need it.

The Kinderlab project team is filled with Boston heavy hitters in the edtech community, hoping to bring the KIBO robot kits to kids everywhere. And, I mean, honestly, who doesn’t want a robot?

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