Exploring Coding using Bee-Bots in Kindergarten

Using technology with students is not always in my comfort zone but that didn’t stop me from trying out bee-bots with kindergarten students. A bee-bot is a type of programmable floor robot designed for children ages 4-7.  I wanted to see what would happen if we followed the kindergarten model of exploration and play as a way to guide a coding inquiry with bee-bots.  Here’s what I discovered.

As you can imagine when I brought 12 bee-bots into a kindergarten classroom for the first time there were squeals of excitement.  We sat in a circle to have a lesson on how the directional buttons controlled its movement and the green GO button would get it started.  Then we cleared the programming by using the X button and started over again.

Students worked with a partner, taking turns programming a bee-bot to see where it would travel.  They seemed most happy when bee-bots unexpectedly went under chairs or bumped into a shelf or wall.  Getting a bee bot to spin around repeatedly was a favourite activity of one group and another group was determined to get just the right number of commands to make the bee-bot cross the classroom.

As a prep time coverage teacher, I visit kindergarten weekly with a cart of learning tools. The cart has a variety of materials to cater to different learning styles and I refresh it with new items often. The bee-bots had been on the cart for a while and interest was waning so I got out the bee-bot maps and the covers that look like stormtrooper helmets.  These new items have refreshed interest in the bee-bots as students can program the robots to find treasure on the island map or go shopping on the town map.  

One challenge the students tried was to program the bee-bots to have coordinated movements so they look like they are dancing.  Another challenge was to have the bee-bot knock down a small tower of blocks.  I noticed students were engaging in dramatic play with the bee-bots taking on the roles in stories they were creating so we tried programming the bee-bots to retell a familiar story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

In another class, the students noticed the bee-bots had a little hook on the back so they invented trailers to test the bee-bots’ strength. Then they tried to hook the bee-bots together so that one was dragging another around . They created a human tunnel using their friends’ legs to see if the bee-bots could make it through.

As a group we used the website https://beebot.terrapinlogo.com/ and tried out different maps. This allowed me to review directionality and the way that coding sequences are recorded in the bee-bots.

All in all I’d say the bee-bots have been very successful in kindergarten and that the students have created many more ways to play and learn with these tools than the very straightforward coding lessons I was thinking we would do.  

As with most trial and error attempts in my career I learn alongside the students.  I would definitely use the bee-bots again and allow students the opportunity to explore and play with the concepts of coding.

Refresh and Ignite!

I’m writing today from the shores of Rice Lake, where I’m attending a women’s retreat for seventy Kawartha Pine Ridge ETFO members. Sharing a cabin with three long-time colleagues, we are here to “Refresh and Ignite .” At dinner last night, we heard from Ontario NDP leader Merit Stiles about the importance of women in leadership roles, followed by a very entertaining round of Drag Bingo featuring two outstanding performers: Betty Baker and Sahira Q. There are a variety of sessions offered this year including outdoor education using wonder wagons, coping with burnout, breast cancer awareness, health care from an Indigenous perspective, landscape painting, humour/comedy, and yoga.

Attending retreat weekends takes coordination and effort, and many women have multiple roles of responsibility. There were years when I could not work the retreat into my schedule, but I’m so happy to be here today, even if the skies are gray. There is strong camaraderie and a friendly atmosphere for us to laugh and learn together.

Why is this retreat just for women? We have a history; before ETFO existed, our teacher unions were gender-based. The rise of women’s rights over the past century has allowed us to look at women’s issues and note that women need opportunities to connect in a safe environment. Saturday’s informative keynote address was by ETFO vice-president Shirley Bell. She reminded us that ETFO is mandated to fund and create women’s and other social justice programs. She said, “women need to see themselves reflected in leadership.”

Our local also held an all-members retreat this year for the first time. I’m sure this event will grow over the years. I appreciate the outstanding leadership at our local office and the dedicated volunteers who put the retreat together. I can’t emphasize enough how many fabulous opportunities there are within ETFO, and I encourage readers to explore how to be a more significant part of our union.

Further Viewing/Reading:

Equity and Women’s Programs Annual Report. 2022. ETFO.

Hanson, Andy. 2021. Class Action: How Ontario’s Elementary Teachers Became a Political Force.

It’s Elementary: 2020 Edition

Using National Film Board Resources in Elementary Classrooms

Created in 1939, the NFB is a federal agency under the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its mandate is to create, produce, and distribute distinctive and original audiovisual works that reflect the diverse realities and perspectives of Canadians, and to share these works with the people of Canada and the rest of the world.  Source

Using audiovisual media with our students helps create a dynamic learning environment. As Canadian educators we can inspire our students by promoting Canadian filmmakers. Canada’s National Film Board provides many examples of film and video across all subject areas and age groups. Here are some examples of NFB content that are particularly suited to elementary educators. Please explore the NFB Education page and the NFB Blog for many more films to use in your classes. If you would like to work with other Canadian educators who promote the use of NFB content, then consider applying to be part of the NFB Educator Network.

Private Eyes Ages 6-9

Why is it important to respect individuality and encourage independence?

Topics: Independence, Physical Disabilities, Visual Impairment, Blind, Senses, Braille, Companion Pets, Communication, Confidence, Self-Worth, Challenges, Resourceful

Film Length: 14 minutes 26 seconds

Overdose Ages 6+

How does stress impact your life?

Topics: burnout, stress management

Film Length: 5 minutes 30 seconds

Elbow Room  Ages 7+   

How can you express your emotions to others?

Topics:  conflict resolution, emotion, dialogue, compromise

Film Length: 8 minutes 30 seconds

Big Mouth Ages 8-10

Is telling the truth always the right thing to do?

Topics: Truth, Communication, Social Relationships, Empathy, Unique Character Traits, Differences, Poetry

Film Length: 8 minutes 20 seconds

Star Wars Kid: The Rise of the Digital Shadows   Ages 12+

How has the rise of social media and digital technology used entertainment and sensationalism to overshadow responsibility, human dignity and human rights?

Topics: Consent, Social Media, Technology and Innovation, Cyber-bullying, Identity, Self-Esteem, Media Ethics, Privacy, Online Relationships, Digital Environment

In Full Voice  Ages 11+ (In French with English subtitles)

How can we deconstruct and disrupt anti-Muslim racism by understanding the specific and diverse experiences of Muslim women?

Topics: Muslim women, Islam, Islamophobia, diversity, identity, religion, gender, spirituality, stereotypes, culture, intersectionality

Film Length: 52 minutes

Warnings: It is important to take a trauma-informed approach to this learning. It is not uncommon for Muslim students to experience Islamophobia in various aspects of their lives. Non-Muslim students may not be aware of the challenges Muslim students face. It will be helpful to inform and prepare Muslim students, with care, that this film may bring up some difficult emotions. It will also be helpful to remind all students of class guidelines and agreements about the discussion of difficult topics.

Hi-Ho Mistahey  Ages 12+ 

Why isn’t the right to a quality education universal in Canada?

Topics: Treaties with First Nations, Indigenous Rights, Oral Promises, Constitutional Rights, Indian Act, Underfunding, Departments of Aboriginal Affairs

Film Length: 1 hour 40 minutes

Coping With Eco Anxiety Part 2: Taking Action and Advocating for the Future

With Earth Day, World Environment Day, and World Ocean Day approaching, your students will likely hear about complex and devastating ecological issues. In the second part of this blog on eco-anxiety, we look at how you can help students cope by taking action to solve local environmental problems and teaching advocacy skills. 

Go Outside and Take Action

Local environmental problems need leadership to be solved. You and your students can take steps to show your community how it’s done!

Partner with Local Indigenous Communities:  Your school board has an Indigenous Education Consultant who can help you connect with Indigenous speakers and organizations. As educators respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, it is important to build relationships with local Indigenous Peoples who can offer authentic teachings.  They can help you with projects like ours, pictured above, choosing plants that have significance for the schoolyard. Learn about Indigenous perspectives and teachings to improve our relationship with nature and the need for wise use of the planet’s gifts. 

Grow Food:   I find potatoes the most straightforward food to grow in a schoolyard (pictured below). They require little attention; just loosen the soil, dig a hole, and plant a seed potato. You may add mulch or be prepared to pull a few weeds over the summer. Dig up your potato crop a few months later. This is a rewarding and delicious project!

Prevent Plastic Pollution: To stop plastic from ending up in waterways, I encourage you and your students to pick up litter around your school and recycle everything you can. 

Guerrilla Gardening: Plant wildflowers wherever you can. Pick plants that suit your area. We’ve had success with brown-eyed Susan, yarrow, and even trilliums. 

Raise and Release Butterflies: Painted Lady Caterpillars can be raised in spring, and monarchs in September. Release them near the wildflowers you planted. This project is not difficult and is very memorable for students. We rely on the generosity of the school council to support this project.

Learn about Advocacy and Do It

Students will be inspired by studying successful environmental advocates. Autumn Peltier is an excellent example, and she said these inspiring words:

“I feel like not only adults, but teachers and the education system have to empower [youth speaking up] and mentor that. Speaking up and using your voice is very important, something I feel like should be taught.” Source

Students will learn essential life skills like letter-writing, public speaking, and critical thinking when advocating for solutions to environmental issues.

Your school could challenge another school to work on a local environmental issue like composting lunch waste or a community litter clean-up. You could evaluate ecological problems in your school and advocate for better use of resources, energy saving, and walk-to-school campaigns.

Access Environmental Education Resources For example, the ETFO Climate Change Primer 

“As part of ETFO’s ongoing efforts towards equity and social justice, this new resource was developed to inform the membership about how the themes such as environmental racism, colonisation, and migration merge with climate change. This resource includes terminology, case studies, acknowledgement of change-makers, and resources for members to build their knowledge and understanding to inform their instructional practices. ETFO Members play an important and crucial role in raising awareness and creating learning environments for students that promote dialogue using a social justice and equity lens.”

Watch Canadian Films like the 5-minute animated short “What Rhymes with Toxic” by the National Film Board (grades 6 and up). The turtle in this film argues with a town council member who denies the health impacts of a chemical spill. Your students could write to your local or provincial government about environmental issues in your area.

Check out Ocean School. It is a free teaching resource with lesson plans to accompany videos. Included in this resource are Indigenous and scientific worldviews of ocean issues.

I hope you got some inspiration and will get your class outside for some environmental education this spring. Please let me know if you have other favourite resources for this topic, as I am always looking for ways to engage students in environmental education. Have fun learning outside and reducing eco-anxiety!


Coping with Eco-Anxiety Part 1:  Observing and Teaching Outdoors

Are you and your students anxious about the future of life on earth? The term eco-anxiety applies to those of us whose feelings of dread, anxiety, and depression are associated with climate change, mass extinction, pollution, plastic islands, depletion of the earth’s resources, the water crisis, and other ecological issues. We can help ourselves and our students to cope with these feelings in several ways.

Part 1 of this blog examines appreciating nature and getting outside to learn. 

 Go Outside and Observe

Plan a variety of teaching opportunities outdoors. Fresh air, sunshine, snow, mud, and rain give us exercise and vitamin D with the bonus of the chance to observe the seasonal cycles, the water cycle, habitats, plants, and all sorts of animals, including insects. You will need to prepare for the weather, but I believe this will reduce student anxiety about the natural world just by spending time outside appreciating the gifts of this planet. Specific learning expectations in every grade from K-8 require students to be outside. When it’s part of the class routine to take a walk together or adopt a nearby tree, plant, or garden, students will likely gain more respect and understanding of the natural world. Bring cameras outside to create media. Take time to write, draw, paint, and create drama or music outdoors. The outdoor setting is a beautiful place to let the artistic side emerge. Respectfully using natural materials is a fantastic way to work together and be creative.

Go Outside and Learn

Your schoolyard is a habitat, no matter where it is located. It’s in a weather zone; it’s on a waterway; it’s a food source for something, even if you are in a concrete jungle! Explore the nooks and crannies of cracks in the pavement. Watch the skies for birds and other insects. You will find many opportunities to cover the curriculum right outside your door. Any subject for grades 1-8 and any of the four frames in the kindergarten program has components that you can cover outdoors. If your school does not have an outdoor classroom, that’s ok! You can do plenty of teaching with students using cameras or clipboards for making observations, calculations, mapping, or art. You can set up a nature-based inquiry by asking students to compare the characteristics of trees and animal habitats or make detailed weather observations. Always ensure outdoor learning is accessible to all students, and have fun!

Advocacy – Using My Educator Voice

“Part of ETFO’s mission is the education, stimulation, and transformation of provincial and local organizations to be responsive to the diverse needs of the membership, and to be a positive influence for change at a societal level. “

 Source: ETFO Social Justice

I’ve been thinking more about my privilege in society and how to create space for others. I imagine my classroom, or even my school, as a microcosm of society and try to model kindness, joy, and hope to my students and colleagues. How do we make the world a better place? What does that look like in the teaching profession?

Reading the anti-oppressive framework created by ETFO helps me think critically about how I teach, the physical setup of my learning space, and the direction I’m helping my school take. It reminds me that part of being an ally is to advocate for those experiencing the negative impacts of colonialism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and ableism.

Sometimes advocacy work means starting conversations that will be uncomfortable, but educators need to ensure that we unlearn oppressive practices and ideologies. We can create space for the oppressed to have a voice. We can advocate spending school budgets on specialized resources for clubs or educational opportunities for students from marginalized groups. We can advocate for professional development to implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We also know that the arts and libraries need our voices heard to give all students access to music, drama, art, dance, books and technology. 

The teacher-librarian AQ course taught me to advocate for the library/learning commons. For years, I have had to justify my requests for the school budget to be spent on books, magazines, and technology. The effort was worth it. Recently, a student who graduated from grade eight thanked me for allowing her to exceed the book checkout limit every week. When other students were taking 1-2 books, she was taking eight. Consistently, every week, for grades two and three, she continued this pattern. By grade four, she began reading some longer books, so the number of books she checked out was fewer, but she was still reading voraciously, and she continues to do so to this day. Her family did not use the public library, and they couldn’t afford to keep up with her appetite for books, so the school library was the place she relied on to keep her reading. With this student and others like her in mind, I will continue to advocate for schools to have libraries and for libraries to have books.

Educators, your voice is valued, don’t be afraid to use it to make things better for someone else.

Diverse Representation in the Media: An Unexpected Lesson

Isaac missed the first of four lessons in a media literacy unit. I invited him to my desk to review the first lesson. I didn’t know that Isaac was about to teach me instead.

In Media Literacy, my grade 2 class watched the video A Pep Talk from Kid President to You. We watched it a few times to observe how the words, the backgrounds, and the music impacted the meaning. In the next media literacy class, we reviewed a pep talk script I created based on the video. Students had to fill in the blanks to make their own pep talk, or they could choose to rewrite the script themselves. In the third class, we would pair off and film the pep talks using tablets. Finally, students could share the pep talks and accept feedback. 

When Isaac sat with me to watch the video, he reacted with shock as soon as Robby Novak came on the screen.  

“Hey,” said Issac, “He looks like me!”

In case you are not one of the 48 million viewers of “A Pep Talk from Kid President,” Robby Novak is an African American who was nine years old in the video. He went on to create more viral Kid President videos and wrote a book, all focusing on making the world more awesome.

When Isaac reacted so immediately and with such surprise to seeing someone he could identify with on the screen, I realized I needed to take diverse representation in the media more seriously. I must examine my privilege and bias when choosing media for any subject.

The American non-profit Common Sense media produced a report in 2021 called The Inclusion Imperative. The key findings include the following:

– High-quality children’s media can promote positive ethnic-racial attitudes and interactions.

-Among young people of colour, watching favourable depictions of their ethnic-racial group can have a positive impact on self-perceptions and views about their ethnic-racial group.

-Media created for even the youngest children should consider inclusiveness and representativeness.

I’m thankful for Kid President, and especially Isaac, for making me aware that I need to do more than I have been doing to ensure students experience more diverse representation in the media we use at school.


Common Sense Media                     MediaSmarts


Crying Over Spilt Milk?

New Year, New Me? No. There are no new year’s resolutions for me, not yet. I’m resting and recovering from that never-ending cold, so I’ll consider my goals later. Taking care of myself and accepting where I am are important tasks for me right now. I do have one resolution. I resolve not to put additional pressure on myself at this time!

On the other hand, Joshua*, a  first grade student, told me that his goal is to make breakfast in the morning. He is so proud of this independent skill he is developing. We talked about how hard it can be to pour from a full milk jug into a bowl of cereal. It takes that careful, slow release, and the bowl has to be in the correct position. We agreed that the milk spills sometimes, but that’s how you learn, by making mistakes. That conversation got me wondering, am I that forgiving of myself when I’m learning something new?

In September, I started a new role, Early Intervention Teacher. In the first 100 minutes of the day, I work with small groups of grade one students to develop literacy and self-regulation skills in the classroom during language centres. Although I have a lot of teaching experience, this is the first time I have found myself in a position quite like this. I want to do it right, so I am putting in some effort to learn how to do the job. I attend professional development sessions, read books and blogs, and watch videos. Some days I feel like I spilled the entire jug of milk, and sometimes it feels like just a few drops. There are even days that go so smoothly I can hardly believe it!

Whatever your goals, I hope you are gentle with yourself when the milk spills. If you haven’t set goals yet, the Lunar New Year may seem like a better time, or the new moon or the first day of spring. Do it when the time feels right.

Happy New Year, everyone!

*The student’s name has been changed.

Celebrating Winter!

Winter has arrived and I’m celebrating! I want children to enjoy the outdoors and feel connected to nature in every season.  We all need the vitamin D from the sunshine so let’s get out there and do explorations and investigations about snow, ice, friction, sound, habitats, survival and more.

There are obstacles to getting students outdoors.  Appropriate winter clothing is one that is easy to solve but what about attitudes? There is a prevailing attitude in society that winter weather is dangerous. The media tends to put out warnings that create fear and anxiety in our students, their families and school staff.  I agree that driving conditions can be treacherous but when it comes to recess time, outdoor p.e. classes, science experiments, daily physical activity and neighbourhood walks I believe we should embrace this beautiful season.

A few years ago I was attending the Reading for the Love of It conference in Toronto and the session I attended had attracted people from across Canada (it was the incredible illustrator, Barbara Reid – but that’s for another post).  Teachers at my table were from Saskatchewan, Northern Ontario, Newfoundland and Southern Ontario. I learned that attitudes toward winter weather vary across the country. The teacher from Saskatchewan said, “we go outdoors in all kinds of weather or we wouldn’t ever get outside!”. They gave examples that in parts of Canada children arrive to school by snowmobile. I bet they live by the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.

What is wrong with hunkering down for the winter months with movies, video games and books? If we do too much of that we miss the chance to develop a positive relationship with the natural world. In the big picture, we know this disconnect means that children do not grasp our role as humans in the natural ecosystems where we live.  We want these students to grow up to be adults who understand the need to protect the natural world and minimize negative human impacts.

For some students, their families may not do any outdoor winter activities.   Even if you just do a few winter outdoor activities this season, your students will be thanking you.  You may even help us have less fear and anxiety in schools about winter weather. 

Enjoy the season!

Gratitude Reflections

On December 19, 2017  we lost a lovely colleague, Joyce Snoek-Hoekstra, in a car accident.  There were poor road conditions that night and she was almost home when it happened. Joyce was a kindergarten teacher who had embraced the job with her whole heart.  She could see the good in absolutely every one of those children and she believed in them.  I covered her class for her prep time so I saw how dearly she loved her work.  I mourn her loss but I also celebrate the gifts she brought into so many lives.  

The last time I heard Joyce’s voice she was on the public address system during the lunch break. I had never heard her on the PA system before.  There was a book she was determined to read to her class during her gingerbread theme and she couldn’t find her copy, It was The Gingerbread Pirates.  As she finished her announcement she giggled a bit and said, “Bye!”, as she hung up. I saw her in the hall shortly after and she was still giggling about the whole thing.  Stepping out of the comfort zone, laughing at her mistakes, going easy on herself for being human, these were qualities that I saw in Joyce.  She was so positive and encouraging with her students, always cheering them on to reach their individual goals.

December’s long dark nights give me a chance to reflect with gratitude on the joys of teaching.  That can be difficult to do with the stress of the teaching job.  It’s a great month to pick up my gratitude journal and double my efforts.  It’s a time to pull back from the noise of the day and appreciate the people who have helped me along the way and remind myself why I’m in this profession. Our students may need that time as well.  Classroom activities that focus on kindness and gratitude are a wonderful way to show students these skills of reflection and appreciation.  I’m going to do a kindness countdown with my early intervention groups.  They will be practicing some literacy skills and building a stronger class community at the same time.  

Take care.