A Robotics Kit for Young Children Ages 4-7

Since 2007, through generous funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant No. DRL-1118897, DRL-0735657), the DevTech Research Group has been researching how to create a developmentally appropriate robotics construction set for young children in Pre-K through 2nd grade. This grant paved the way to developing the KIBO robotics kit, now commercially available through Kinderlab Robotics.

The KIBO kit includes: wheels, motors, light output, a sound recorder, and a variety of sensors (Sound, Light, and Distance sensors). KIBO is designed to work without any screentime using wooden programming blocks.

Research
The Development of KIBO

The KIBO robotics kit was developed through the Ready for Robotics project, led by Professor Marina Umaschi Bers from the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University and funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1118897). This research project focuses on two components of STEM, the “T” of technology and the “E” of engineering that have been the most neglected in early childhood education.

As part of this project, we created and evaluated a developmentally appropriate robotic system for young children (ages 4-7), called KIBO (formerly known as “KIWI” or Kids Invent with Imagination), a robot that children assemble with motors, wheels, and sensors and then program with our tangible programming language made of wooden blocks. KIBO is now commercially available through KinderLab Robotics. Additionally, we have developed strategies for integrating its use in early childhood classrooms by designing curricular units that integrate programming and engineering with other subject areas, as well as professional development strategies.

Since 2011, the KIWI prototype (now called KIBO) has gone through several design iterations and has been tested in numerous public and private schools in the greater Boston area as well as in summer camp and lab settings.  This testing with children and teachers has informed each stage of the re-design of KIWI and the commercially available KIBO robotics kit.

The image displays the design changes made to the KIBO robot over the years beginning in 2011 (light blue, pictured far left) to the newest commercially available model (orange, pictured far right).
The image above displays the design changes made to the KIBO robot over the years beginning in 2011 (light blue, pictured far left) to the newest commercially available model (orange, pictured far right). Design changes were made based on ongoing pilot-testing and direct feedback from early childhood educators and children.

KIBO is programmed using tangible wooden programming blocks- no screentime required! The child creates a sequence of instructions (a program) using the wooden blocks and KIBO reads the barcodes with an embedded scanner. With the press of a button children watch the robot come alive (see images below)! The KIBO programming language contains 21 unique blocks and 12 unique parameters leading to endless creative possibilities.

The KIBO kit, accompanying curriculum, and professional development materials we have developed are based on rigorous quantitative and qualitative research conducted with children, parents, and teachers. KIBO is now used in more than 30 countries worldwide. KIBO was recently used as part of a country wide early childhood technology initiative in Singapore (see highlights of KIBO in Singapore below). The philosophy behind KIBO’s design, the pedagogical approach, and examples of classroom uses can be found in the book “Coding as Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom”, written by Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers (Routledge, 2018)

KIBO Research Highlight Video: KIBO in Singapore

For more information on our research in Singapore, see: Sullivan, A., & Bers, M.U. (2017).  Dancing robots: Integrating art, music, and robotics in Singapore’s early childhood centers. International Journal of Technology and Design Education

KIBO has been used in a variety of empirical research studies conducted by the DevTech Research Group to understand children’s mastery of programming and robotics robotics, the development of computational thinking, gender differences, the development of virtues and multicultural understanding through coding and how children with autism can learn to code. In addition, we conducted studies in both the US and a diversity of international settings

To read publications related to these and other topics, please visit DevTech’s Publications Page. KIBO and its prototypes have been used as part of several Doctoral dissertations, Master’s Theses, and Undergraduate Theses which can be found on our Theses Page.

KIBO Research Protocol: Request full access to DevTech’s KIBO assessments for teachers and children, curricula, and more by filling out this form: KIBO Protocol Request Form

The DevTech Research Group hosts robotics and programming professional development institutes and workshops throughout the year. For more in-depth teacher preparation please see our Early Childhood Technology Certificate Program.

Want your own KIBO? You can get one!

The KIBO robotics kit is available online through KinderLab Robotics Inc.

Resources

KIBO Puppets – Instructions to build your own KIBO puppets!

KIBO Research Protocol Request – Fill out a form to request full access to DevTech research materials including: child assessments, teacher assessments, curricula, and more.

KIBO Assessment Packs – KIBO Assessment Packs developed by KinderLab Robotics can be found here.

Computational Thinking Assessment – If you are a researcher interested in using the TechCheck validated research instrument to evaluate children’s computational thinking, please complete this form

KIBO Project Rubric – This rubric can be used by researchers and practitioners to examine the variety of programming concepts and design elements exhibited in a KIBO robotics project. 

Publications and Papers:

DevTech KIBO and Robotics Publications Table– This table includes all publications relating to KIBO, KIWI, Ready for Robotics, and Tangible K from 2009-2020.

For all of our other publications please visit the DevTech Publications Page.

Curriculum

Curriculum Starter Materials: Looking to create your own robotics curriculum? Here you will find some useful planning materials: Robotics Curriculum Planning Sheet,  Final Project Planning SheetRobotics Curriculum Template (editable word doc), Technology & Engineering Integration Starter.

Find here a summary of all of our freely-available curricular resources for KIBO (or an early prototype called “KIWI”) by the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University. These units are designed for children in Pre-Kindergarten through second grade to playfully learn robotics, programming, and engineering in a hands-on and developmentally appropriate way. 

Assessments

In parallel to curriculum development, DevTech Research Group also works to build assessment tools to measure children’s knowledge and skill levels within the KIBO programming language. There are currently two validated KIBO-related assessments: the Coding Stages Assessment and the KIBO Project Rubric.

The Coding Stages Assessment (CSA) assesses progress in learning the ScratchJr programming language in the framework of Coding Stages (De Ruiter & Bers, 2021).  This assessment is conducted one-on-one by asking the child or teacher interactive and open-ended programming questions. The assessment probes the five Coding Stages (Emergent, Coding and Decoding, Fluency, New Knowledge, and Purposefulness) that children go through when engaging with KIBO. CSA is administered as a game and take anywhere between 5-45 minutes to complete depending on experience levels.

The KIBO Project Rubric captures children’s ability to transform their coding knowledge into creating purposeful and creative projects (Unahalekhaka & Govind, 2021). There are two main aspects in the rubric: Coding Concept and Project Design. Multiple subcategories in this rubric are highly related to the computational thinking concepts such as Sequencing, Events, Repeat, and Number Input. The Coding Concept evaluates coding blocks’ complexity, efficiency, and functionality, while the Project Design focuses on aesthetic elaboration and customization. The KIBO Project Rubric can be administered after children complete their KIBO projects, typically taking around 3-5 minutes per project.

Additionally, we have developed TechCheck, which is an unplugged, platform independent assessment of Computational Thinking. More about these three instruments, including trainings, certification steps, and downloadable materials, can be found at our validated research instrument website.

Get Involved

To participate in research involving KIBO visit our Get Involved page.

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