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Students will be able to collaborate to create an algorithm, or a list of step-by-step instructions, for navigating around obstacles.
- Ask students: "What is a maze?" Discuss previous experiences and prior knowledge related to mazes.
- Optional: Use a picture book, such as Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg or Journey by Aaron Becker to introduce the idea of a fun and exciting expedition through and around many different kinds of obstacles.
- Explain to students that they will be allowed to move the furniture around the room to create a life-size maze.
- Then students will have the opportunity to walk through the maze. The trick is that they can only move in ways that are part of an algorithm, or a step-by-step set of instructions.
Explicit Instruction/Teacher modeling(10 minutes)
- Lead students in the process of moving desks and chairs to create a maze. You will likely want to facilitate this process by taking specific suggestions from students and then delegating tasks to specific students.
- How you arrange the furniture to create your maze will vary depending on how much space you have and what types of furniture is available. At a minimum, create a path that requires students to navigate around at least three obstacles arranged in a zig-zag pattern.
Guided Practice(5 minutes)
- Demonstrate how to walk a path through the maze.
- Then ask students, "What words would you use to describe what I just did?" They may respond with actions like "step forward" or "turn right."
- Explain that each of these phrases is a step in the instructions or algorithm that they will be creating with a partner. When there are more than one step, these become step-by-step instructions. The instructions are the directions they must follow to get out of the maze.
- Explain to students that they will be working in pairs. Each pair will create a list of step-by-step instructions and ask and answer questions about the speaker's oral instructions.
Independent working time(20 minutes)
- Tell students to work together in pairs to write out the step-by-step instructions for navigating the maze.
- Once a pair of students has completed a written draft, they may take turns testing their algorithm by walking the maze. Have one person read the instructions while their partner follows the steps.
- Students should be encouraged to edit and revise their algorithm if they run into any errors or missing steps.
- Students should ask and answer questions to clarify the movements they should make within the maze. For instance, if the speaker asks the partner to move to the right, the parter can ask a clarifying question to make sure they heard correctly, or to verify the instruction.
- Have partnerships switch roles to verify their steps once again.
- For students who are able to accomplish the task quickly, challenge them to create an algorithm for navigating the maze backwards, from the end to the beginning.
- For students who have difficulty writing down instructions, allow them to draw arrows or other symbols that represent each step in the algorithm.
- Circulate the room and observe each pair of students writing and testing their algorithm.
- Measure student success by whether or not each pair is able to successfully navigate the maze and represent the process with a written algorithm.
- Determine if students successfully asked clarifying questions about the topic (i.e., the oral instruction).
- Ask students if asking and answering questions was helpful in adjusting their algorithm.
Review and closing(5 minutes)
- Ask questions that encourage students to evaluate their experience, such as: "What did you find most challenging about creating the algorithm?" "When your pair experienced a challenge, how did you overcome it?"
- Invite students to work together to put the furniture back where it belongs.
- Discuss how this tangible maze experience is similar to creating a virtual maze with computer programming. Show students an example of a virtual maze, such as the Kodable educational programming game platform. After viewing the example, ask students, "How is our maze similar to a Kodable maze? How is it different?"
Ann Gadzikowski is an author and educator with a passion for challenging children to think creatively and critically. Her recent book Robotics for Young Children won the 2018 Midwest Book Award for best educational book. Ann developed her expertise in robotics, computer science, and engineering through her work as early childhood coordinator for Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. She has over 25 years of experience as a teacher and director of early childhood programs, and currently serves as the Executive Director of Preschool of the Arts, a Reggio-Emilia inspired school in Madison, Wisconsin.