Educators didn’t expose students to any screen time when introducing preschool coding and robotics in Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ childcare centers this past school year.
Also noteworthy were the teachers themselves: high school students enrolled in the district’s early education academies and studying to become childcare professionals.
“It’s a two for one,” says Cristian Carranza, the district’s executive STEM director. “The high school students are learning coding and programming, and they’re teaching pre-K kids who can then enter our robotics pathways in kindergarten.”
During the year the high schoolers guided the preschool coding students in arranging KinderLab Robotics’ wooden KIBO blocks printed with QR codes for a robot to scan.
The codes directed the robot through a series of actions; if the robot didn’t perform the expected tasks, the students rearranged the blocks. Then, they could come up with more complex instructions.
“It allows the preschool kids to see that the person in control is the programmer; it’s not magic,” Carranza says.
The preschool coding pilot, which took place at Coral Gables, Hialeah Gardens, John A. Ferguson and South Dade senior high schools, allowed the students in the early childhood academies to pick up a marketable skill that they may not have anticipated.
“Many of the older students went into the early childhood education academy not necessarily expecting to do programming,” Carranza says.
Another benefit of the preschool coding program: Many of the preschoolers at the childcare centers were the children of Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers.
“We’re helping our teachers’ kids get a leg up on programming even before they start public education,” he says.
The district hopes to expand the program in 2019-20 to other high schools that offer the early education pathway and also operate an in-house childcare center.