Some of the most important years of a child’s life occur in the period between birth and school. During this time, vital brain development takes place and the foundations for future learning are laid. High-quality nursery education can therefore make a huge difference to the trajectory of a young child, giving them the platform they need to go on and realise their full academic potential.
Developmentally appropriate practices are key to helping young children to flourish. Preschoolers learn best through exploring, doing, copying, playing, interacting and engaging with storybooks. Talking with attentive and responsive nursery educators enables children to develop vital language skills, which are not only important for individual wellbeing, but also underpin early literacy.
In Grades R and 1 we introduce the LEGO® Early Simple Machine (ESM) DUPLO® sets. All mechanical machines are made up of a combination of six simple machines and by using these sets our young learners are introduced to real-life concepts like gears, wheels and pulleys. In Grade R they build models from instructions and in Grade 1 we allow and motivate them to design their own models enhancing creativity and critical thinking as well as communication and collaboration as they work in groups.
This is done to prepare them for the robotics programme that is introduced in Grade 2 and 3 where the LEGO® WeDo sets are used. LEGO® WeDo is a simple-to-use tool that enables students to learn and construct with LEGO-sized bricks and then bring their models to life by programming them using the very child-friendly WeDo software.
These sets also include a motion and a tilt sensor, which allow the models to be programmed to obtain information from the environment and ‘make decisions’ based on this information.
Once again, in Grade 2, we allow them to build models from instructions. They are, however, taught the software language and have to write their own programmes, for example, to allow the crocodile to sleep and eat its prey or to allow the birds to dance and sing.
Learners work in pairs of two and each of these groups use a dedicated laptop and WeDo set, allowing them to build, program and discover at their own pace.
As in Grade 1, Grade 3 learners design and program their own models.
Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed, argues that our schools need to incorporate computer programming into the core curriculum or get left behind. ‘It’s time Americans begin treating computer code the way we do the alphabet or arithmetic,’ he said.
When our learners reach the Intermediate Phase we change to the more advanced LEGO® Mindstorms sets, which include more intricate motors and a variety of sensors. In a systematic way the learners are introduced to a more advanced programming language in order to program their robots to function in an autonomous way. Starting off they build a robot from instructions, but as they progress they are challenged to solve ‘real-life’ problems where they need to design the models and program them to solve a given problem.
Two programming languages taught in Curro: EV3 and NXT-G
Our learners are also encouraged to take part in one of three regional Inter-Curro Robotics competitions every year in addition to the World Robot Olympiad, which has regional, national as well as international competitions and is hosted by a different country each year. In 2015 the finals of this competition will be held in November in Doha, Qatar. The elementary competition this year is ‘Pearl Diving’. The theme, ‘Robot Explorers’, encourages students to build robots that can investigate and explore different environments, some of them hostile to humans. This game challenges you to build a robot that can dive and explore under the sea for pearls. For each dive you will only have 30 seconds before the robot needs to come back up for air.
By exposing our learners to child-friendly technology and programming from a young age, we believe that they will master the much needed 21st-century skills as well as the confidence to face the challenges they will have to meet in the very competitive world they are growing up in.