'Learners need to build pathways': A robotics teaching expert shares her approach to teaching kids these subjects


The Department of Basic Education recently announced that the 2020 curriculum for Grade R - 3 and Grade 7 included coding and robotics classes. This revelation has sparked debate among parents and teachers, as some feel it is too early, while others feel it is much needed to prepare kids for the future.  

Zelda Pretorius, CEO of Trophy Robotics - a company which offers kids coding and robotics classes in Gauteng - wrote to us to share her expert insights on the subject. 

Read her perspective here:

Coding is a very controversial topic the past month. Many people are excited about the new topic added to the school curriculum and many parents feel it will be a waste of time.

Both groups can be correct, it all depends if the implementation is done correctly.

Have you ever wondered where in life normal people use coding? Not everybody is writing apps and websites.

When you bake a cake strictly according to a recipe, you are following someone’s instructions – or codes.

When you give travelling directions to someone, you are giving him a code, just like the computer writes a code to execute a program like a GPS to give directions to you.

If a teacher is giving instructions to her learners, she is giving them a “code” (a lesson) to follow. 

If we already use it in real life, there is no reason to be afraid of this new language.

Must read: Grades R to 3 will start coding and robotics classes next year. Is it really a good idea?

At Trophy Robotics we have done mechanics and robotics classes since 1997 in Gauteng and the Vaaltriangle. Initially robotics was slow to start, especially in the Vaal, but as technology changes, so do people change.

Robotics follows the same pattern as computers, fax machines and cell phones. Initially, it was regarded as highly technical stuff that only a few people could use. This has changed dramatically over the last couple of years.

How will this influence our children and when should they need to start their journey with robotics and coding?

We allow “real” robotics and programming only from Gr4 age in our clubs. Some children grabbed the idea and ran with it; others really struggled with the concepts.

We found a way – through our junior foundation curriculum – to explain programming/coding easier to them. This is why we do feel that coding can be implemented in the foundation phase.

The whole focus, through my experience, should fall more on:

  • Following/giving instructions
  • Correct order/sequence
  • Debugging/solving problems
  • Spatial orientation
  • Critical/computational thinking

This all should be done without any electronic equipment. The reason for this is that learners need to “build pathways” in their brains to complete those tasks through repetition and board games.  From Gr3 schools can add their electronics if they have the means to.

Also read: Here's how you can help your kids see schooling as a small part of a much bigger picture

Another area that is very important in the young age group is to learn how to “talk coding language” and explain themselves or ask questions when they struggle. Just like an engineer needs to be able to “sell” his tender, learners need to be able to sell their coding programs as they execute it orally – or in our case - with magnetic wooden blocks. 

Coding is just like learning: a step-by-step process; just think of children learning how to ride a bike. If a 2-year old had to keep his balance, pedal and steer on a normal bicycle, he would be very frustrated and give up.

But by starting with a tricycle the 2-year old will be optimally challenged and experience the positive feedback that drives him further in the learning process: the bicycle with stabilisers and what a wonderful experience it is one day to remove the stabilizers!

Teaching coding with tools like amaKhodi starts with small coding puzzles, pixel coding and grid reading (spatial orientation and sequencing), building of obstacles courses and only then do we introduce the coding part.

Younger children are much more creative and bold and love to explore. It is a good time to start the introduction to coding in a fun way.

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