Playing Around with Bee-Bot

Playing Around With Bee-Bot

One of my posts last year focused on a neat little robot called Bee-Bot. I had originally seen him during the local library’s STEM night and knew I wanted him for unplugged coding activities. Bee-Bot is exactly what he sounds like: a robot that looks like a bee. Bee-Bot has buttons on his back to create his programming- forward, backward, turn right, turn left, clear, pause, and go. He’s best suited for younger students in K-4, though older students could participate by designing challenges. Bee-Bot was developed by Terrapin Software.

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Many options are available for purchasing Bee-Bot. Some are necessary, others, not so much. The basic order includes only Bee-Bot for $90. He includes a USB charger. Of course, there are options to purchase multiple Bee-Bot kits, and even an option to get a large charging base for multiple Bee-Bots. However, unless a lot of funding is available, this isn’t something to consider for quite some time.

A purchase that I consider to be necessary for Bee-Bot is the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. This is a great tool to utilize in addition to whatever curriculum is being
used to teach computer science basics. Young students get the hands-on experience necessary to complement their work on the computer. The curriculum includes a CD with PDF files. The PDF files are challenges for Bee-Bot users to complete. They range in difficulty levels, and each level has a variety of options to solve. This curriculum is $100, but worth the cost to the teacher, as it includes over 140 different challenges that can be printed and utilized.

Another purchase that I found necessary, though others may not, was the Bee-Bot Card Mat. It too can be pricey, and does cost another $70. One of the big reasons I recommend it is because it lays out the grid with the correct length that Bee-Bot must move forward. It’s also sturdy, and has a plastic film that any designed mats can be placed under to use.

The other options for purchase on the website I wouldn’t consider necessary, but they are useful to have. There are many different mat options already created for classroom use. There is also another curriculum created that is geared toward K-2 subject areas. Command cards were also designed for the teacher who decides that they need to utilize them. If one gets tired of Bee-Bot’s yellow and black bee design, there are Bee-signer Jackets available to purchase that can be decorated with markers or stickers.

I was lucky enough last fall to receive a small grant from a community foundation to purchase Bee-Bot, the Problem-Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum, and a card mat. I was unable to actually use Bee-Bot until this spring, however. I wanted to have my SES Coder Kids try something different, and for them to make connections between plugged and unplugged coding. I completed all of the activities with my K-4 students, as my 5th graders were wanting to continue working on their Code.org course. Some of them were close to finishing.

Our first meeting with Bee-Bot involving talking about what it was and what it could do. Students in each group were introduced to the robot, and we spent some time discussing the buttons on its back as well. I demonstrated how Bee-Bot worked, and then each Coder had a chance to program him as they wished to see what he would do. Once every Coder had had a chance, then it was time to complete some challenges on the fly. Basically, I would select a starting point for Bee-Bot, and then have two students select points- one to be an end point, and the other to be a point that Bee-Bot had to go through on the way. Coders in each group had to get him through both points, but the path they made Bee-Bot take didn’t matter. When some of the older groups got the hang of that, another through point was added to the challenge.

Our next meeting with Bee-Bot introduced the challenges from the Problem Solving with Bee-Bot curriculum. I printed off the range of Difficulty 1 challenges, and made extra copies. I then sat down with each group and we worked through the challenges. We always
completed one challenge together as a group before splitting off and working in smaller groups. Each group would work together to solve the challenge, and then report back to the mat to try out their solution. Every group was required to write their program on the challenge paper. Many times, the groups learned that their code wasn’t correct in some way, and had to return to the drawing board.

I still have one more meeting with each coding group this year before the school year ends. With the exception of my kindergarteners, the rest will most likely move on to Difficulty 2 challenges in their groups.

I’ve learned quite a few things about Bee-Bot and the students I have worked with on the challenges. There’s definitely a large developmental difference between kindergarten and the other groups. While this is an obvious thought, it’s interesting to see in action. With my kindergarteners, we did the challenges together as a group. It was very hard
for the students to distinguish left and right still, and there were some issues working out how to write down the program correctly. With some guidance, these students were able to complete the challenges set before them.

First and second grade students may still have trouble with left and right from time to time. However, they are capable of working together in small groups without the teacher providing 100% support. With these students, we would complete one of the challenges together after going over the programming code and how to write the code on the challenge paper. The students would then go off into small groups and write down how they thought the program should function. They would return to the mat when they felt their code was correct and we would test it out. If the challenge failed, then we would
discuss what went wrong, and the students would go off to their groups to see how to fix it. They would return to try again. Once a challenge was successfully completed, they would receive a new challenge to complete.

Third and fourth grade students typically did not have an issue with the beginning challenges. After reviewing similar directions with these groups, we simply went over one of the challenges pages I had kept from my kindergarten group’s meeting. We reviewed how it was solved, and how any challenge should be solved. Once finished, these students then received their challenge papers, split into groups, and off they went. Just like the first and second grade groups, they solved their challenge and then returned to the mat to try it out. If the program didn’t work correctly, then they returned to their group and redesigned the program so that it did.

Here are some ideas for using Bee-Bot:

Design a challenge: Students use the challenge layout to create their own challenges for other students. They must be able to correctly solve their own puzzle before letting other students use it. Students can trade challenges and complete.

Design a mat challenge: This is similar to the above, but slightly different. Students must design their own mat for use with Bee-Bot. It might be a mat that tells a story, or provides an obstacle course for Bee-Bot. Students must design the rules or challenges to be used with the mat.

Reverse challenge: Instead of writing the code for a design, as presented by the original challenges, students must write a program to create a particular design. Once they are certain that their program and finished design work, they give only the program code to another group. The group must input the code, and draw the resulting design.

Overall, Bee-Bot is a refreshing change of pace for students who have been working with coding on the computer. It gives them a chance to experience coding in a new way, and build problem-solving skills that will come in handy later on as they move through the grade.

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