ITEEA The Elementary STEM Journal, Vol. 24, Issue 4
PublisherInternational Technology and Engineering Educators Association, Reston, VA
ReleasedMay 1, 2020
The Elementary STEM Journal, Volume 24, Issue 4 - May, 2020

Search this Publication

Activity - Kids Code: Tools to Support Mathematical Precision Through Meaningful Connections


Pic2-300.jpgKids Code: Tools to Support Mathematical Precision Through Meaningful Connections 
by Kelley Buchheister

As they move about their environments, young children have opportunities to reinforce their relational understanding and build mathematical vocabulary.

Coding activities can provide opportunities to extend content explorations and provide meaningful connections among mathematical ideas, early literacy skills, and geography.

Cubetto, the hands-on coding robot, was integral in Ms. Megan’s preschool classroom. Recognizing her children’s excitement, she used the robot to create collaborative, problem-solving experiences where the children explored spatial relations and used mathematical vocabulary to describe positions in space, “Cubetto is far away from the mountain” or “We need to make Cubetto go around the river—he can’t go through it!” As they navigated the obstacles, Megan fostered her preschoolers’ rational counting and number sense. She encouraged children to evaluate proposed ideas and justify their thinking as they debated how many tiles to use in order to move Cubetto from Point A to Point B: “No. We need to have four green tiles. He has to go forward four spaces, see? One, Two, Three, Four. Not five. You don’t need a green for the turn. You need a different color to turn.”

Pic1-300.pngEach experience followed the direction of Megan’s preschoolers, and she built support systems to scaffold their representational understanding, directional sense, and visualization skills. For instance, as she observed her children struggling to remember left and right directions, Megan added color-coded arrows to Cubetto’s top face (Figure 2) to address the developmental difficulties and maintain her focus on counting, spatial sense, and building precise mathematical language.

Other supports Megan incorporated into her lessons helped develop her children’s representational understanding and visual-spatial thinking. While not initially the goal, in her reflections Megan noticed how the rotating small-group roles she created offered children experiences with various representations and encouraged mathematical communication. For instance, the “button pusher” responded to the group’s cues to determine when to try the path. The “tile placer” listened to the group’s counting to connect the final number to a quantity of tiles. The “path tester” (Figure 3) followed the proposed routes with the “easy mover Cubetto.” Each of these roles offered opportunities to move from more concrete programming with the tangible coding tiles to using pictorial representations or numerals to represent the movements as they recorded the possible routes, drawing shapes and arrows on the “Cubetto Cards” (Figure 5) Megan created.

Fig3. Path tester-300-med.jpgFig4. Cubetto card-300-med-crop.jpgFig.5-180.jpg

After navigating Cubetto through the countryside, the city, and even outer space on the provided maps, the children in Megan’s class wanted to design their own maps. One of Megan’s culminating activities in the unit included creating a map of their community (Figure 6).

Fig7.Children's community map-300.pngIn designing maps, children applied directional language as they represented community locations. They used ordinal language when discussing what areas of the map to develop first, and considered measurement as they reflected on the size of roads, buildings, and playgrounds. Megan fostered her children’s thinking and made connections to their experiences with GPS devices, treasure maps, and activities with Cubetto. Megan extended the children’s work with maps through "read aloud" that emphasized characters’ movements through space such as “Bears in the Night,” “Rooster’s Off to See the World,” “Rosie’s Walk,” and “The Last Stop on Market Street.” She prompted children to think about what tiles they could use to represent characters’ movements and what the map would look like to represent settings throughout the story.

Megan’s responsive teaching provided valuable opportunities to encourage 21st century skills in an integrated context. From her children’s interests, Megan generated thoughtful explorations that developed precise mathematical language and meaningful connections. Using coding as a foundation for mathematical explorations can offer an opportunity to see how mathematics is represented through a different lens. As in Megan’s case, mathematics can become a tool even preschoolers use to communicate mathematically as they explore environments and use precise language to propose and evaluate possible routes on each journey.


Kelley Buchheister, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies where her research and teaching focus on promoting equitable interactions in early childhood mathematics and STEM education. She can be reached at