Six months ago, Cubetto arrived at our school and it was love at the first sight between the children and this cute little wooden robot.
GETTING TO KNOW CUBETTO
I must admit I was surprised – today’s children are so used to special effects, to hilarious cartoons and superheroes. On first glance, Cubetto is simply a small wooden cube. But our kids became friends with Cubetto right away and connected on a personal level, like a friend – it was great to see.
Cubetto moves slowly and steadily as if slightly hesitating before taking the next step. But Cubetto is very determined – doesn’t go the way you WANT it to go, but the way it is TOLD to!
For my students, it seems that the magic happens right there, in that space between issuing the command and Cubetto starting to move. It was great to watch the children start to appreciate the difference between the first and the second command, realising the operational process of Cubetto without being angry or nervous, but with the same calmness and acceptance that this small, smiling robot is projecting.
I talked to my friends who are professional programmers about Cubetto. They all agree that if a child learns to navigate Cubetto, they understand the basic concepts and the most important principles of programming, such as programming sequence, algorithm, debugging. All the elements are there.
A RELAXED GAME TO INTRODUCE CUBETTO
Primo Toys provide lots of materials and ideas for parents and teachers that can be found on their website, each showcases a different way of using Cubetto.
In our school, we have our own ways of introducing Cubetto to the children.
When a child sees Cubetto moving, he or she immediately wants to take the command board and control the movement, but it is important to structure this first interaction carefully.
The first time I show Cubetto, to keep the attention and motivation of my youngest pupils, I start with a ‘free programming’ session. After presenting to the children all the elements of the experience, I first create a short journey for Cubetto with one turn. Then I ask a child to move the robot in any direction they like.
NO WRONG ANSWERS
Every route Cubetto can take is the right one, so the child understands that she or he cannot make a mistake and starts to use Cubetto freely and without tension. When the robot stops at a certain point I mark that point with some chalk, then move Cubetto to the other end of the map and ask another child to repeat the same move action send the robot in some direction as before. Again, I mark the stop point of this move in chalk.
During both ‘free programming’ activities, the child has an opportunity to follow the relationship between the movement of the robot and instructions on the command board. I normally indicate this relationship with my finger and by verbalising it:
“Cubetto is now moving forward, this was your command, now it is turning because you used the piece with the turn arrow. Can you see that? Cubetto is strictly following your orders!”
Now on the floor, we have two points marked with chalk. The next stage of this introductory game is to ask a student to make Cubetto move from one point to another. For distances that require longer, more complex sequences, I model the route myself, explaining what I’m doing as I go.
At this point, the introductory class stops. (In my experience, the majority of children will want to continue, but it is up to the teacher to assess whether that is doable.) This game works well with one or two or three children at a time, but I wouldn’t recommend more than two for this introduction to Cubetto.
DOES IT WORK?
Cubetto is an excellent tool for the first steps in learning basic programming concepts. It helps in other areas of learning as it presents opportunities to introduce different contexts for the robot to ‘live’ in, so by doing programming in the background, children can learn about almost any other area.
Similar to other Montessori materials, it combines play with learning and in our school, we are still discovering many ways of using Cubetto!
I am sure Cubetto can fit in very well at your school too.