Through our conversation, she shared with me that she was part of a team that wrote curriculum connecting Beebots and the NASA missions. She asked, "Would I be interested in learning more?" Um...YES!!
So, please read on to learn more about how how this group of engineering students wrote Creative Commons licensed curriculum for elementary students that you can use with your students to fuel excitement around space missions.
Cardinal Space Mining Club (CSM) is a student organization at Iowa State University dedicated to designing, building, and testing a robot to dig regolith, simulated Lunar soil as part of the NASA Robotic Mining Competition. As part of the competition, teams are also tasked with doing educational outreach within their communities. We love getting kids excited about STEM because we know that the younger kids get interested in STEM, the more likely they are to pursue it as a career. Two years ago, CSM had the pleasure of partnering with the first-grade teaching team at Ocotillo Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, to design curriculum for a week-long space robotics unit for the class of 93 first-grade students.
Our advisor’s niece was one of the first grade teachers at Ocotillo Elementary School. She reached out to us and asked us to help her think of the best way to teach her students how to code, so we initially started thinking about which robotics sets would be a good match. Bee-Bots are a great tool for teaching coding to first-graders who have never programmed before: the robots are programmed by pressing the buttons directly on the robot, so the students can see an obvious connection between the time when they give the robot instructions and they see the robot carry them out; there are no words, so reading level is not a barrier to entry as it is in most block-based coding tools; and they are fun to play with!
For us, providing context is a key component when working with students. Bee-Bots come with a plain white mat. This is nice, but we wanted to build a story for the Ocotillo students that they would get excited about, so they would feel intrinsically motivated to learn how to code. We realized we needed to expand from just designing one lesson to planning an entire week of curriculum. With “Mission: Martian Base, An Adventure in Space, Robotics, and Coding with Bee-Bots” we immersed the students in NASA robotics.
The last lesson in the unit was the mission. We designed and printed our own custom double-sided Bee-Bot mat, and mapped out six challenges the students needed to complete to build their Martian Base. The first two missions are on the first side of the mat, which has a map of a launch site on Earth. On the other side of the mat, there is a picture of the surface of Mars. To provide additional context, we decided to make the Bee-Bots look like rovers instead of bees. We designed and 3D printed covers for the Bee-Bots using a MakerBot 3D printer.
CSM adapted “Mission: Martian Base” to Iowa standards in 2019, and the unit is licensed under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. For Grant Wood AEA schools, you can access the curriculum through the Grant Wood AEA Media Center. Click on the Supplemental Lesson Button when you search for "Bee-Bot." If you don't have Bee-Bot, from here you can check out Bee-Bots for your school. You can also reach out to your digital learning representative as we have the mats & 3D files already printed.
To support NASA’s initiative to promote the Artemis missions, we are currently designing new custom mats and challenges for the Bee-Bots to show kids they are the Artemis generation. Students will program their Bee-Bots to drive to designated locations on the mat where they will discover new things about the moon. This new curriculum will also eventually be available for public use as well.
The key takeaway is that Bee-Bots and other educational robotics tools have so much potential beyond what comes in the box. Through our outreach, we have found that students are most excited when we can tell a story and connect their learning to concrete, real-world applications using the content we want to teach, and then find the best technology (if necessary) to support that content learning.
Dagney Paskach, Cardinal Space Mining Outreach Co-Coordinator