Retelling through Code!

Using technology in a meaningful way is the key to success in the classroom.  As a former kindergarten teacher and the current reading specialist, it is so very important to use technology in an authentic way that meets the needs of students and their learning targets.

In our book, Now Classroom: K-2, we lay out how to move from basic coding with online apps and websites (such as,  to unplugged coding (without a device), and then coding with coding toys such as Bee-bots, Ozo-bots, Sphero or Puzzlets.  These toys allow  for coding through play.

Recently, our school librarian and resident technology specialist, Sandy Kampman, had the students retell a story using the  .  She had been working with the first grade students on a unit about Robert Munsch.  She had read and introduced many books by Robert Munsch.  The culminating activity was coding Bee-bots to land on parts of the story and retell it as the Bee-bots moved.

Working in small collaborative groups, different stories were given to each group to retell.  Students had to work collaboratively to determine the proper coding sequence to make the Bee-bot move appropriately.  Then the students had to also retell the story as the Bee-bot moved.  What a powerful retelling lesson!  Mrs. Kampman seamlessly taught coding through the use of authentic text that was meaningful to the students.  

Activities such as this example create a powerful lesson for the students.   Lessons such as this help them to internalize both literacy and technology.  I hope you will take some time to try this lesson with your students!  Please share anything you do with us at #nowclassrooms on Twitter so we can see how you are integrating technology with learning in your classroom.

Beth Hatlen

Author Now Classrooms K-2

Reading Specialist



Technology’s Place in Early Childhood

Parents everywhere debate this topic. Teachers debate it. Policy makers and pediatricians debate it.  The American Academy of Pediatrics current recommendation focuses on quality of screen time and discussions that families and teachers have around digital media. According to the APP, “For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.” They also suggest creating a digital media plan for your family (and classroom).

So what does this mean for early childhood educators and parents of young children?  We have amazing tech tools and vast information at our fingertips.  Pair these with high interest activities and engaging conversations and we have some EXCELLENT instruction!

In EC and the primary grades, students have so many questions about the world around them. Inquiry-based learning, driven by student’s questions and wonderings, can help students develop a working relationship with technology as a tool.  In the NOW Classrooms K-2 book, the first lessons help teach your students how to successfully navigate a device, and then how to work with project or problem based learning AKA inquiry learning. With your guidance, we can help students become technology literate, then fluent, and finally innovative all from their inquiries.

Our job then is to be digital media mentors. Digital media – digital books, articles, tweets, comments, pictures, videos – are all consumed daily by our students both at home and at school.  If we help our students develop a healthy digital media relationship, they can truly use it as a tool for expanding their understanding of the world around them.

Does technology have a place in early childhood? Yes! As digital media mentors, NOW we can give our students the skills and strategies they need to navigate tech.

Kirstin McGinnis

NOW Classrooms K-2 Author

Literacy Coach

Top Ten Tangible Tech Toys for 2018

Visitors to my classroom always wanted to know more about the tools and toys that the kids were learning with.  Now, in the STEAM Lab at our school, visitors still beg the question, “What IS that? Where did you get it?” The list is always changing, but here are some of my favorite tangible tech toys for 2018.

Original Hexbugs are hours – seriously HOURS – of fun! They are teeny tiny battery operated toys that move and bounce off of surfaces.  Give your students a challenge of building a path for them to get from point A to point B or fashion a chariot for them to see how much they could pull. There are also a ton of new versions that I haven’t gotten my hands on but look great! Check them out in the complete Hexbug store.

Osmo MindRacers are all the rage right now. Who doesn’t want to race cars down a ramp? Think those card racing arcade games now on your device with some Matchbox cars. Osmo has done a really nice job of adding products from their original Words, Numbers, and Tangrams.  There are now coding games and an iPhone base in the Osmo store.

Osmo Coding Jam and Coding Awbie are tangible coding blocks that link to the free corresponding Osmo apps and help students explore computational thinking.  It’s a fun challenge to get the right sequence of code to make the game functional.  

BeeBot An oldie, but goodie, BeeBot now has a BlueBot that is Bluetooth enabled. Early coders program the BeeBot arrows to get the robot to move.  Create a map of your classroom or city and code the BeeBot to take a tour!

Puzzlets takes a puzzle board and pieces with simple code and brings an app to life.  Students can sit together around one tablet or iPad and discuss how to get the characters around the app.  I love this one for centers.  Guide students to slow down and listen to each others ideas and ways to problem solve.

Cubetto A Montessori approved, tangible coding toy, Cubetto offers young learners the opportunity to explore coding and computational thinking. It is rather pricey, but worth the investment if you have a strong need in EC.

Robot Engineer combines reading and building a robot. Some students want to dive right in an build, others like to gain the background knowledge through the story before they do so.  There is no wrong way!

Jumbo Gears brings a Lego-esque experience to working with gears.  Students can build varying levels of gear systems on an interlocking board.  A great center activity and powerful inquiry learning experience.

Circuit Maze is a logic puzzle and another I haven’t been able to play with yet but I am pretty excited about it. A little more primary friendly than Snap Circuits (another good product) and teaches circuitry that can be expanded on in sequential lessons.

Sphero keeps adding on to its fleet of robots with increasingly easier to use models.  With the new mini Sphero, you can test out its robotics with your class without making a huge investment.  At our tech night this was one of the most popular stations!

Adult supervision required! Well, not really, but should be a consideration for all of these games.  Why? Because the conversation about tech tools helps students gain purpose and deeper understanding of the tools they use.  As with any tech tool, have a conversation with your students as they play and learn helps to deepen everyone’s understanding!

Some of these tools have been used in the NOW Classrooms K-2 book – check it out!

Kirstin McGinnis

NOW Classrooms K-2 Author

Literacy Coach