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Introduce Coding by Making a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich!

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Coding is as simple as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Or IS it?

I remember going to The Tech in San Jose (CA) many years ago and walking up to a silent docent at a table with all the appropriate ingredients. There was a paper on the table, explaining that all one had to do was give the correct commands to the docent “robot,” and it would make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It was fun and much harder than I thought it would be! I recalled the experience when I was trying to craft a great into lesson for coding (The Hour of Code is coming up in December). That well-worn lesson plan (with some adjustments) would be a perfect way to introduce coding to my students.

First I found a talented and willing robot – in this case, my daughter Maggie. To add a technological element and enhance the Robot Maggie experience, we decided she should Skype into our classroom. The necessary materials were set up in the vice principal’s office: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a loaf of bread, a knife and a plate along with a Surface Pro 3. Donning goggles and a lab coat, Robot Maggie awaited a specific time to call The Room Nine Kids – giving me time to introduce the lesson, access prior knowledge and set the stage for that exciting sound of a Skype call coming in!

All the excitement and learning is in the Sway right here!

Students were instructed that their commands had to begin with "Robot Maggie, ___" followed by what they wanted her to do next. They were also warned she could not answer them, as the only thing she could say was, "Robot." When they thought they had the correct next step, they had to raise a quiet hand and wait to be called upon. Then they had to come up to the camera and ask Robot Maggie their question.


Using all their 4C skills (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking), my students came up one by one, trying to craft the correct wording to get Robot Maggie to complete each step of the process. Some students started writing down sentences before coming up, others huddled and discussed possible word choices, and all were engaged and excited. Watching their faces light up with understanding was the best part - like when someone commanded: "Open the peanut butter jar," and Robot Maggie just slowly hit it against the table.

It took my students 47 minutes to get one PB&J sandwich made, which was both frustrating and (ultimately) exhilarating for the students. We all enjoyed a laugh when the last student came up to the camera and commanded Robot Maggie to take a bite!

When we started the Hour of Code the next day, my students could see the necessity for logical thinking and putting commands in chronological order because they had experienced it first hand the day before. Coding made more sense once they had worked together to make that peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

The value of Robot Maggie and the PB&J Sandwich was not only extremely beneficial for introducing coding: it has also given us a common experience to draw upon when sequential thinking is required.

Bonus outcome: I have observed my students thinking more about what they say and how they say it now, and that’s always a good thing!


Full disclosure: I have not received compensation of any kind for mentioning the products or services mentioned in this post. I was not solicited to write this post and I have no relationship with any of the companies mentioned.

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Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She is a popular presenter and trainer around the country. She presented at the 2015 Microsoft Global E2 conference (where she earned two global awards for project excellence), and will be presenting at ISTE 2016 (with Angela Maiers), CUE 2016, ETC! 2016 and CTA’s Good Teaching Conference 2016. Follow her on @TammyDunbar or find her at http://www.teachergeekischic.com

Dunbar is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Certified Educator, Master Trainer & Regional Lead as well as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Certified Educator, a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator and an NCCE Professional Learning Specialist. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She serves on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee and as a district Tech Champion Expert as MUSD continues their “Going Digital” project.

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Guest Monday, 24 June 2019