With its focus on learning through playful discovery rather than instruction, the Montessori method is widely hailed as one of the most effective ways of teaching kids. But can you use the Montessori method to teach kids to code?
Primo Toys co-founders Matteo Loglio and Filippo Yacob think so. They've created Cubetto, a four-wheeled wooden robot with a smiley face, who is programmed to navigate his environment not by typing code into a computer, but through the placement of brightly colored blocks.
Cubetto comes in three parts: the robot, a programming board, and a game board. The programming board has an Arduino in it, which communicates with the Cubetto robot over Bluetooth to move across the game board. Sort of like a shape sorting board, the way you program the Cubetto is by slotting different color blocks into the board: red to move forward, blue to turn left, yellow to turn right, and green is the function key for loops and subroutines. Kids ages three to seven "play" with the Cubetto by trying to program a path from one part on the board to another.
In a lot of ways, Cubetto is like a more sophisticated and attractive version of Robot Turtles, an analog board game that tries to teach kids to code. Both aim to teach children the logic of coding without them having to know the machine language of programming. But while Robot Turtles requires an adult to interpret a child's code, Cubetto's robot moves itself, allowing children to discover coding without a grown-up's instruction.
That's where Montessori comes in, say Loglio and Yacob. By allowing a kid to discover programming through play without an adult's direct instruction, Cubetto fulfills many of the criteria of the Montessori method. It's non-prescriptive, in that it allows children to solve problems within the world they create. It's child-centric: All kids need is a nudge to understand "blocks" = "actions" and they can take it from there. Cubetto is also designed so that many kids in a class or a pre-school can pool their knowledge to come up with a solution one child alone might not understand; in other words, cooperative, not combative. And finally, it's autodidactic: Kids learn the principals of coding through trial and error, not instruction.
Montessori is not the only educational method Cubetto piggybacks off of. Logo—the educational programming language for kids first created at MIT in 1967—was also a big inspiration for the Cubetto team. If you grew up in the '80s, you might have learned Logo in computer class, programming a turtle to draw on your screen. "In many ways, the Cubetto Playset and its tangible coding language are a physical, and much simpler representation of Logo, specifically aimed at a younger audience in pre-literacy," says Yacob.
Will Cubetto help your child land a job at Google straight out of preschool? Probably not, but what it will do is help children develop an intuitive understanding of coding logic, which they can then apply when they're older to any platform or language they want.
You can pre-order a Cubetto playset starting at around $195 here.