This is the third post, in a series of activities, that are designed to impart logic and computer science concepts without the use of expensive technology or one-on-one devices. Check out the first post about the game, Robot Turtles and extensions for Robot Turtles.
As I prepared for my camps this past summer, I knew I wanted to have some other activities that could teach computer science concepts – without a computer.
This past summer, my camps ran from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and although we had some outside time, it wasn’t as much as I would have liked. Last June, the afternoon temperature here was 100 degrees. But, I didn’t want them sitting in front of a computer for more than a couple of hours at a time. it’s not good for kids (or adults), even if it is a camp for computer programming. There is a lot of value in having other activities which make you think.
So, inspired by this post from Dr. Techniko, I came up with my own game, Be the Robot.
To demonstrate how to play, I would ask one of the older students to “be the robot.” I was the programmer and gave them a few commands from the handout. After we worked out how to “read” the commands, I would pair the kids off and they would take turns writing a program for their robot. Each student had a chance to be the programmer and the robot.
The entire time they were working, I volunteered to “be the robot” and run their code. I would execute it based on their written down code and they were often surprised when I didn’t pick up the pencil or go around an obstacle. You could see their brains making the connections of specific instructions.
I first tested the game with my younger campers (ages 7 – 10) and found that my directions were not specific enough. I had also tried to introduce it to them before playing Robot Turtles and it was harder for them to understand. Thereafter, I made sure that each group of younger students (under age 9) had played Robot Turtles before attempting this lesson.
For the older students (5th-9th grade), I ended up giving them a “challenge” for their robot. Rather than just play around with the commands, they seemed to need more of a purpose. I asked them to write a program for their robot where the robot would start on one side of the room, pick up a pencil, return to the other side of the room and place it on the floor. Honestly, I can’t say the group of 9th graders loved this aspect of the game, but they did understand the concept afterward.
I think this game still needs a bit more tweaking – maybe a bit more demonstration in the beginning? Perhaps it should be preceded by a coding treasure hunt, as mentioned by Dr. Jackie Gerstein?
Regardless, it’s one more tool to place in your programming toolbox. You can download my hand-drawn sheets here (PDF File of Be the Robot). Obviously, please use these with your summer camp or classroom – mass-produced commercial use is prohibited. Hopefully, you and your students will find it useful. And, if you get a chance, post a comment so we can all learn from each other and craft a better lesson.