During the Australian summer holiday period, I've had a little visitor to the Chook Yard. He's called Bee-Bot, and he was loaned to me for review by Educational Experience, the Australian Bee-Bot distributors. He looks a lot like a cartoon bee, but is actually a floor robot. You can see a Bee-Bot in action in this video.
Isn't it amazing to think that children can use a learning aid like this in today's classrooms? We've certainly come a long way since the dusty green mats and stained bean bags I remember from my youth. But is the Bee-Bot a gimmick, or can it genuinely help kids develop skills they need for education? Let's take a closer look.
The Bee-Bot seems fairly indestructible. Okay, I didn't throw it at the wall or submerge it in the bathtub, but I hope it wouldn't encounter those situations in the average classroom anyway. It is chunky, sized right for little hands, has limited, simple controls and is accompanied by many suggestions for learning.
The Busy Street map that accompanied my little guy (disclosure: I call him BB) looks durable and is brightly coloured with a central street and shops either side. Like the Shapes and Colours mat, it has velcro on the back so it will adhere to carpet. I also received software that enables users to program a virtual BB in his own world. I can't give you feedback on it, because it was for computers running Windows, and my computer refuses to. However, I found a video that I think gives some idea of it, and it looks great. When I checked the Educational Experience webite, there are many more accessories you can get for Bee-Bots.
In a nutshell, you program BB and then set him off on his journey. You use little buttons to tell BB to move in steps and turns. He talks back with flashing lights and sounds. At one stage I was immersed in playi...er...research, when the phone rang. I didn't remember to turn BB off, but luckily discovered he went to sleep after a couple of minutes of being idle ( a lot like some Book Chooks I know!)
BB was also accompanied by a plastic folder with some sample activities for using him with young children. Activities were on laminated cards, and included tasks involving observing, thinking ahead, listening, following directions, and other oracy, numeracy, and literacy skills. The main aim seemed to be "find out about and identify the uses of everyday technology and use Information and Communications Technology and programmable toys to support their learning." I didn't have the chance to take BB into a classroom, because it's the school holidays, but I know I was problem-solving, practising directions, predicting, and enjoying myself thoroughly!
If you're tempted for your class or your own kids, one Bee-Bot costs around $Au77 (including GST) according to Educational Experience. I would think you'd be better off with some of the accessories too. The alphabet and number mats have heaps of potential, and the Treasure Island Mat would be cool (all mats seem to be around $40-$50). Schools would probably get most benefit if they also purchased the Let's Go with Bee-Bot Book, which gives ideas for incorporating your robot into all sorts of curricula, and the software. You can download a free trial version (for Windows, or Macs with a leaning that way.)
You can find extra information online. Here is a Queensland site which has resources to download.
Is a Bee-Bot a must have? Can our kids survive without one? I think a Bee-Bot would make an ideal purchase for a school with money in its Science and Technology budget that is looking for something durable for younger grades. Books aren't always the answer - but a Bee-Bot would definitely go better with a Bee-Bot Book!