BOTS: Building Opportunities with Teachers in Schools


Key Concepts in Computer Science

Introduction to Computer Science Fundamentals
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Key Concepts in Computer Science

Sphero calls this their learner progression, and BOTS focuses on Draw and Block Code activities.

  • CODER - these are the values we emphasize to lay the groundwork for good behavior, given the common practice of paired programming and also iterative (sometimes frustrating) process of coding complex algorithms: Collaborative, Open-Minded, Dedicated, Enthusiastic, Respectful
  • Algorithm: Simply put, an algorithm is a sequence -- i.e., a sequence of coded commands, analogous to non-digital sequences like a menu or directions for any sequential activity, such as brushing teeth or getting dressed.
  • Further info: Sequence is one of three basic flow control structures in programming, and is the very first concept a student must understand when learning to code. Also known as order of events, a computer will execute commands exactly in the order or sequence they are written. As a programmer, it is important to make sure that the commands given to a computer are in the right sequence, otherwise a program might not run as expected. (Reference: Kodable)

Project: Let's start with some hands-on analog work with these materials, printed out for you today.

VAST: USC Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering brings innovative STEM projects, programs, and professional development to PreK-12 schools and teachers in Southern California through VAST — Viterbi Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher — the research-based component of USC Viterbi’s STEM outreach. VAST uses research results to improve the college and career pathways of under-represented minorities in high needs schools. Read more.

Why BOTS? And what is it?

The need is clear in the 21st Century for children to be fluent in computational thinking and comfortable with computer science. Robotics is a "hands-on, mind-on" way to engage children so they develop these skills as well as learn collaboration, open-mindedness, determination, enthusiasm, and respect (these are the CODER values we discuss in VAST coding projects). For the past three years, VAST has created a successful robotics program for 4-5th graders in three USC Family Schools, and we seek now to start at even earlier ages by empowering first-grade teachers to create their own approach to robotics in this pilot program.

  • Vision: to provide sustainable, scalable opportunities for a community of practice of 1st and 2nd teachers to teach age-appropriate computational thinking and computer science through robotics during in-school hours.
  • Need: BOTS strategically supports LAUSD’s 2016 Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) Task Force Recommendations, including: “Professional learning opportunities for all stakeholders [are] imperative to educate leaders on how to incorporate digital learning tools and how to adapt instruction to the opportunities afforded by digital tools” within a “District-wide culture of exploring and experimenting” (15). Read more.
  • Short-term Mission (Exploratory Phase): starting in fall of 2017, we have collaborated with Dr. Jeremiah Gonzalez, Principal of Murchison St. Elementary School, and the school's two first-grade teachers to experiment with Sphero SPRK+ robots (loaned by USC VAST) to work with USC VAST to identify key learning goals and standards alignment, logistics, and professional development needs in order to launch a pilot study in additional schools during the 2018-19 academic year.
  • Year-long Mission: to create a pilot program to test and improve age-appropriate learning goals, resources and activities to teach computational thinking and computer science (CS) through robotics to support a scalable program that USC VAST will develop and expand to other first- and second-grade teachers in order to create a community of teachers invested in teaching coding/robotics to their students throughout the 2018-19 academic year and assessing CS content knowledge and motivation in those students.
  • Benefit to our Elementary School partners: 
    • Collaboration with USC Viterbi VAST staff on approaches to teaching computational thinking, robotics and computer science. and assessing impact.
    • Recognition that your time and expertise are valuable.
    • Opportunity to bring robotics into the daily lessons and experiment with new pedagogical possibilities.
    • Loan of Sphero SPRK+ robots (1 Sphero/student dyad, including sphere, base, and blue charger plug) plus one Sphero Charging Hub (12 ports). The schools need to provide safe use and storage of this equipment.
    • Credit for your contributions as this program develops.

Resources selected by VAST for BOTS:
Sphero SPRK+ and

Our goal is to offer teachers ready-to-use resources they can flexibly adapt to their daily lessons while also providing rigorous, age-appropriate lessons in CS that align with CS Standards set by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). To give teachers an efficient and flexible on-ramp to include coding and computer science (CS) in-school, BOTS has identified's Course B on CS fundamentals for First Graders, especially Lesson 3-Algorithms & Lesson 4 (Drag & Drop), and the Sphero SPRK+ robot, which students can code through the Sphero Edu app on a tablet or smart phone, making it easy to command the robot through a wide variety of activities that can be used in tandem with's computer science curriculum.
Sphero Educator's Guide - we printed out key pages and put them into your binder
Sphero Activity Resource


 Draw and trace with Sphero

Coding in Blocks

Although there are several types of block coding programs, they function the same even if they have slightly different colors and interfaces. These programs are also called "drag and drop," because students -- even those who can't yet read -- can drag in functions based on their color and code the robot. Sphero uses a block code that is similar to MIT's Scratch and also to Google's Blockly. The main goal of this lesson is to build experience with computers. By covering the most basic computer functions such as clicking, dragging, and dropping, we are creating a more equal playing field in the class for future puzzles. Resources: Online Activity - Online Activity - Scratch MIT C.O.D.E.R Vaues


Published on October 25th, 2017

Last updated on November 12th, 2022