Category Archives: Computer Programming

What’s inside a laptop?

This is the fourth 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, extensions for Robot Turtles and the game of ‘Be the Robot.’
A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

A collection of final projects from some of my summer campers.

Inside a Laptop – Make a Paper Laptop

This multi-day project was one of the kids’ favorite activities. I think it impressed the adults too. Everyone seemed to like this activity – both the process and the final product. There was structure, there was learning and there was enough creativity that the kids could ‘make it their own.’
I did this activity with kindergartners, and up through fourth grade. They all loved it, although I think it was too much for the younger kids (K and 1st).

The purpose of this project was to reinforce the idea that computers are made up of parts. We, as people, construct them and we need to tell them what to do (at least at this stage in the game). I don’t want the kids to think that it is just a magic box that works. I want them to understand that there are lots of connected pieces that work together to make a working computer.

With a little bit of guidance, students can craft knowledge about the inside of a computer.

This was a great lesson on drawing attention to where the letters are laid out on the keyboard. The students copied a real keyboard and wrote the letters onto their paper computers.

This activity came about because I needed a computer science project for a church camp, but they had no computers. There were minimal materials available, but I am a hands-on educator. I needed to find a way to engage the students without droning on and on. I don’t lecture (at least not for more than 5 minutes) and almost never for classes that include young children.

After some desperate web searching, I came across a few ‘computer parts’ worksheets and thankfully, this blog post by Creatiful Kids. Since I am a Montessori-educator – and I was trying to discourage the “magic” feel of a computer –  I created my own, realistic-looking materials so that my students could build their own laptop.

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

I drew my own parts (that looked somewhat realistic) and labeled them. Then made copies for the kids to color (if they wanted to).

Then, I needed a computer to take apart. Thank goodness I had one laying around. It managed to stick around despite during my minimalist-inspired purge of 2014 (as it’s called in our house). Somehow, I didn’t manage to get rid of the old macbook. That laptop was still hanging out in my husband’s office, so I immediately grabbed it, found a YouYube video on how to take it apart and started unscrewing. I attracted the attention of my youngest son and we worked together.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

C and I watched a YouTube video on how to take apart my old macbook.

Since it was a very old laptop (from 2005), some of the screws were stripped and just did not come undone. There was some cutting and pulling, but finally we took the top off and figured out where the main parts were.

You can see how old this laptop is...by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

You can see how old this laptop is…by all of the dust in the components. Yuck!

Now I had a real-life visual to show the kids and they could replicate the “real” laptop by making one out of paper. I asked them not to touch any of these parts because I wasn’t sure what sort of chemicals were coating them after so many years of use. I also removed the battery and placed it in a plastic bag and showed it to them, but didn’t pass it around.

The keyboard is removable and it's fun to watch the kids' expressions when I take it off.

The keyboard is removable and it’s fun to watch the kids’ expressions when I take it off.

Did I expect them to remember the names of the parts? No. Did I expect them to remember them at the end of the project? No. But, my older students did. I was quite impressed.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part black since we will refer back to the "inside" of the computer.

Use old cereal boxes (or a cardboard box) and fold it in the middle to act as the outside of the laptop. Leave the inside part blank since we will refer back to the “inside” of the computer.

Be sure and only glue on the screen - that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Be sure and only glue on the screen – that way students can lift up their keyboard and see the inside.

Will they remember the names of those parts next summer? No.

I’m not there to reinforce the concepts, but they should remember that a laptop computer is made up of various parts and that they are housed inside the computer. That’s one step closer to taking the magic out of a computer.

I have put both hand-drawn sheets and a lengthy list of instructions on the web site, Teachers Pay Teachers, under the title, “Make a Paper Laptop.”

 

Book Review :: Making Simple Robots

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri.

Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri.

Ages: teens – adults
Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Making Simple Robots: Explore Cutting-Edge Robotics with Everyday Stuff. MakerMedia: Sebastpol, CA, 2015.

A few weeks ago, I picked up this book at the library. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but the author caught my interest when she mentioned that many robot books can be a let down. They are often too advanced or so simple that they don’t teach much. Those are my thoughts exactly! I was happily surprised when I started the first chapter and couldn’t put it down.

I became engrossed with the description of shape-changing robots and found myself eager to try out her simple, yet advanced project on how to demonstrate the concept. This is especially relevant for me because I am in the process of working on a ‘electronic paper’ course for this summer. Suffice it to say, I ended up reading the entire book in one day!

Table of Contents from the book, Making Simple Robots.

Table of Contents from the book, Making Simple Robots.

Ceceri’s book is well-organized and perfect for the beginner robot scientist. She clearly makes the distinction between a robot (which uses sensors and must be programmed) and a machine (which much be operated by someone else).

I especially loved her simple designs, real-world uses and accompanying explanations. This book is written for individuals who are interested in a variety of ‘robots.’ She covers topics on automated paper, BEAM robots and introduces the concept of e-textiles, which can include sewn electronics – a favorite topic of mine.  With each new piece of technology, she includes a real-life connection. Many of these research projects take place at universities and are still in the design phase, but it helps for students to make real-world connections that are so often lacking in school.

A sample robot project. Picture from Kathy Ceceri's book, Making Simple Robots.

A sample robot project using LittleBits. Picture from Kathy Ceceri’s book, Making Simple Robots. See it in action.

Since the purpose of this book is to whet your appetite for robotics, some of the projects use material short-cuts. Some of these shortcuts include using LittleBits to overcome the hurdles of having to hard-wire or hard code advanced technology such as Arduino. This can make some of the projects quite pricey, but it’s a guide for you to explore the variety of options in robotics. As for those naysayers who complain that they don’t want to purchase a 3-D printer, check out your local library or college. We are fortunate to live close to the University of Florida and the science and education libraries allow you to upload a 3-D printing file and pay to print it out – no need to purchase an entire 3-D printer.

Overall, this book is a great place to begin if you and your child aren’t sure where to start with your robotics adventure. Although the book is geared toward teens and young adults, there is no reason an adult couldn’t help a younger student with some of the projects.

In conclusion, I loved the book. It showed me a wide variety of robots – many of which I didn’t know about and would never have discovered on my own. I already have plans to incorporate some of the accentuated paper robots into my summer classes and I can’t wait to get my hands on her new book about Paper Circuits.

Accentuated Paper project.

Accentuated Paper project from Kathy Ceceri’s book, Making Simple Robots.

 

 

 

Be the Robot

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.
A made-up game that acts kids to be both programmers and robots.

A made-up game that allows kids to be both programmers and robots.

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.

Why?

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.

The initial commands. (As they get more advanced and stay interested, I introduce repeat loops.

The initial commands. As they get more advanced and stay interested, I introduce repeat loops.

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.

Example of how commands would be written for the game, Be the Robot.

Example of how commands would be written for the game, Be the Robot.

 

 

 

Extensions for Robot Turtles

This is the second 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 Robot Turtles.
After my older students have played through most of the rounds of Robot Turtles, we make our own game of Robot Turtles.

After my older students have played through most of the rounds of Robot Turtles, we make our own game.

During my Montessori training, we encountered a lot of extension material. For example, there were extensions for the pink tower which would reinforce the original concepts (biggest to smallest and visual discrimination). These extensions would also allow the students to use the pink tower in a slightly different way. A prime example is of pink cards that mimic a tiny tower. The square shapes are the exact same size as the cubes – on one side. It’s another way for the students to grasp the concepts that the pink tower means to impart.

In that same vein, I try to find extensions for the materials I use during camp. This week, we’re talking about extensions for Robot Turtles. Last week, I talked about how I use the board game, Robot Turtles, in my summer camps. I like it because it reinforces programming concepts in a new way. I also like that you don’t have to use a computer. Does that make sense? Yes, because much of computer programming is using logic to solve design problems (or how to make your characters appear, etc.)

Since many of my students lost interest after a few rounds of Robot Turtles, I wanted to find a way to reinforce the concept of giving specific instructions. (To be fair – it is designed for 4-year-olds). I decided that my seven to ten-year-old students should make their own version of Robot Turtles.

A half-finished, multi-day game that involves elephants and lava.

An in-progress photo of a game that involved elephants and lava – made by Rebecca, age 10.

This lesson plan evolved over the summer and toward the end, there were a few more guidelines than I initially thought I needed. My students had a hard time replicating the game,  but once I helped them get started, they seemed to take off.

I walked the students through making a grid (eye-balled for accuracy). This set the game board in a semi-consistent manner. Then, they had to think about the purpose of their game. Together, we talked about the different aspects of the Robot Turtles game – how does the turtle win, how does it move, etc. After we broke down the game, I asked the students to think about a game where they had some characters that moved, but who would also have to complete a task.

In the final version, I drew a large square on the paper to help the kids get started. Next time, I will have yardsticks on hand.

In the final version, I drew a large square on the paper to help the kids get started. Next time, I will have yardsticks on hand.

I provided pre-printed “movement” cards, but they could add additional “moves” if needed (see picture below). I checked on them as they were working – making sure the final game would make as much sense as possible (it didn’t always – and that was okay). We would play the game as a way of “testing” and they found the errors in their game design – and fixed them.

Hand-drawn set of command cards to mimic those found in Robot Turtles and other "instruction" games. I make a copy for each student. They have extra spaces to make their own commands.

Hand-drawn set of command cards to mimic those found in Robot Turtles and other “instruction” games. I make a copy for each student. They have extra spaces to make their own commands.

When they were finished with their games, I sat and played each one and encouraged them to play with their fellow campers. Now, they all had something to take home from “robotics” camp and when the novelty wore off – their parents could easily recycle it. This is really important to me as I hate to deal with the cheap, plastic crafts that come home with my own children. I don’t want to have to store (or throw something away) that they made in camp. And, since the kids can’t take home any of the robotics (due to the expense), I want to make sure that the stuff they do bring home can be recycled or reused.

Harry Potter game, made by Wes, age 10. Wes had just finished reading the Harry Potter series and he made a cool game with wands, muggle obstacles and a cast of Harry Potter characters.

Harry Potter game, made by Wes, age 9. Wes had just finished reading the Harry Potter series and he made a cool game with wands, muggle obstacles and a cast of Harry Potter characters.

I will admit, this project found more favor with my girl campers than my boy campers. My boy campers were just as creative, but they seemed to dislike the idea of adding color to their board games, whereas the girls would spend extra time making their games look complete.  My sample is self-selected (they choose to sign up for my camp), so perhaps the boys I attract are more interested in the Lego WeDos that are part of camp and thus dislike the use of paper and pencil?

Either way, it offered another way for my students to think about the concept of giving specific instructions. It wasn’t always easy, but it did offer a chance to be creative. The only requirements were that the board had to be a grid and the characters had to move by arrow commands – just like in Robot Turtles.

Wes made muggle obstacles - similar to the ice blocks and wood towers from Robot Turtles.

Wes made muggle obstacles – similar to the ice blocks and wood towers from Robot Turtles.

 

 

Hour of Code

Monday, I volunteered at our local library to help students work their way through an hour of code. Hour of Code is a worldwide movement to introduce coding to students. The organization also hopes to get computer programming into every school curriculum.

Trying out the hour of code. A is testing our new student computer for Artisan.

Trying out the hour of code. A is testing our new student computer for Artisan.

I love the logical thinking that comes with programming. I love the idea that we can create something out of “nothing.” And, I like the idea that students will learn to create rather than consume – if they know code.

But…rather than piling one more thing onto our already stressed out kids, I’d like to see it incorporated into the entire curriculum. Personally, I think it could be a great way to showcase self-directed projects, but since project-based learning isn’t ubiquitous, what about replacing part of the math curriculum with a computer science curriculum? Do kids really need to know mean, median and mode in 3rd grade? What if we spent four weeks teaching them how to use Scratch?

For example, when my oldest son was eight, he began working with the programming language, Scratch. He was introduced to the xy-grid. We had to talk about angles and degrees when recreating the game Pong. He has never been formally taught about coordinate planes, but he understands them because he’s written programs using coordinates.

Many of the upper-level programming languages require complex math equations. What a fabulous way to include real-world applications for math. In fact, this man thinks math could be taught through computer programming.

Of course, once kids know Scratch, they could then use it to replace some of their written work – book reports could be written in code. What about projects in geography class? Why have everyone stand up in front of the class with PowerPoint when they could make an interactive game or map that tells about their country?

Think of the possibilities! What a fabulous chance to help our students become creators, not just consumers.

 

 

Review :: The Game of Robot Turtles

This is the first 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.

Robot_Turtle_GameSince I am a trained Montessori teacher, I try to incorporate a Montessori approach for all of my lessons. The Montessori Method focuses on hands-on learning – starting with concrete concepts and then moving on to more abstract concepts. Each child has a chance to work with the materials individually to gain mastery. Repetition is a desired goal. Group work is encouraged, but only with certain materials and only once the key concept is gained. Watching another child do the work is considered learning and is often encouraged.

Educational organizations do not always have the resources to provide hands-on materials for each child.  So, how do I apply this way of learning – concrete to the abstract – without expensive tools and materials? How have I taught computer programming without a computer on which to program?

Thankfully, there are a lot of inventive people out there working on this problem.  The game of Robot Turtles is one of the solutions.

Round one of Robot Turtles - everyone starts at this very easy level - even if you are 9-years-old!

Round one of Robot Turtles – everyone starts at this very easy level – even if you are 9-years-old!

A few years ago, I was introduced to Robot Turtles and my first impression was not that great.
I felt like it left out a lot of information and didn’t make the transition to the type of programming I was teaching. But, then again, I probably should have actually played the game instead of just glancing over while my kids played it. At that time, I was only using WeDo Robotics and the programming language, Scratch. I thought it was too simple for my students.

Then, I realized that some of my WeDo campers weren’t always able to transfer some of that learning to the Scratch programming environment. So, I began to wonder if Robot Turtles might address that problem. I was also looking for something that would allow my campers to work individually with the WeDo software, but still allow the other campers to learn about programming. Buying more Lego® sets and adding more computers wasn’t really an option. Also, I taught a few classes for a non-profit summer camp and we only had two computers to use for an entire class of 15 kids. I needed something else to teach these core concepts.

Last summer, I had a group of four students (ages 7 – 10) play the game and I acted as the robot computer. I read the rules out loud and they all laughed because it required the “computer” to make computer noises. They snickered as I tried to make goofy sounds. I loved reading the rules out loud because it diffuses the tension with the kids.  Immediately, they realize they aren’t going to move their own turtles – at least not in the beginning. And since the rules said it, there’s less chance of a power struggle.

There are multiple levels to the game and even my older students have to start at the beginning. They will often grasp the concepts quicker than the younger ones, but it puts them all on a level playing field.

Since I work with older students, I introduce the ice towers and the laser cards at the same time.

Since I work with older students, I introduce the ice towers and the laser cards at the same time.

The first three rounds typically take 20-30 minutes and the more comfortable they get with the game and the concepts, the more I let them take the lead. After running through the board with ice blocks, lasers and solid walls, I ask them to set up the board however they like and then “write” their own program to retrieve their jewel. I act as the computer and use their turtle to “run” the program – with the students calling out the commands. I was surprised at how many made an error or two in this stage, but it’s quickly remedied by slapping the “bug” card and fixing their program.

Set up your own path and "write" your own program.

Set up your own path and “write” your own program.

At this point, the game loses the interest of most of the kids, though, you still have a few who want to try different set-ups. All told, they’ve understood some basic concepts and it’s easy to bring it back again to reinforce the concept that a computer doesn’t know what you are thinking – you have to be specific when you tell it what to do. A programmer also needs to be aware of limitations (rocks, ice walls) and be aware of bugs in their programming.

This is a fun game that works really well for ages 6 – 11. It’s actually designed for 4-year-olds, but since I don’t have any of them in my camp, I’ve never tried it with kids that young. With my students, they don’t always go back to it, but they’ve gained a new way of internalizing programming concepts.

To find out new ways of using Robot Turtles– using pencil, paper, markers and colored pencils – check out my post on Extensions for Robot Turtles.

Robot Turtles - command cards.

Robot Turtles – command cards.

 

Ozobot :: Lesson Extensions :: Maps

This past summer, I introduced these Ozobots to my young campers (ages 7 – 10). They were excited at the idea that this little robot would follow a hand-drawn line. There’s something about combining “high tech” and “low tech” that they find baffling – and that instantly draws them in. They know markers. They’ve been working with them for years, so the barrier to entry is very low. It’s the perfect way to introduce them to these tiny bots and to enforce (or introduce) the idea of computer languages.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

While I think computer programming is a great skill to have (or at least be aware) for this next generation of children, I place a greater value on being creative and persistent. These little bots can encompass both of these skills. As I’ve said before, the paper and marker language is not always consistent and thus, children (and adults) need to have some grit to be able to solve their problems. Sometimes the bots need to be re-calibrated, sometimes the marker line is too thin, etc.

So, how to help them move forward after the initial play period has worn off? Maps.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Once they understand how the Ozobots work and how they read their color-coded computer language, I asked my students to create a map of places for their little bot to visit. The instructions were open-ended, but I ended up asking lots of questions about their favorite places to visit. The task seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but after asking them to draw one place that they would love to visit, they took off.

There was a lot of giggling and hastily-drawn buildings as the Ozobot would randomly choose paths to take. Some of the students had deliberately added lots of fast food restaurants to their map and they were delighted when the Ozobot would “eat out” way too much. It prompted an additional doctor’s office and hospital on the hand-drawn maps. What a fun way to teach the concept of moderation.

Each student’s map was different and they varied based on age, ability and interest level. For some of the younger, “less-art” kids, I sat with them and helped them to stay on task – asking questions and wondering where their Ozobot might want to go next. Did they like to visit the beach? Would they like to find work as a tractor on the farm? Maybe they wanted to visit a friend’s house?

In addition to helping them develop their creative muscles, this activity also helped students to see various paths to creating. Would they choose to create the Ozobot’s path first…with various color codes? Or, would they want to create places to visit first…and then add a path later? The decision-making was sometimes intense and there were lots of opportunities to think about how to plan out (or not) their Ozo-village. None of the children I worked with suggested using a pencil first, but this might be a great concept to introduce to an older crowd. Either way, they had fun, they learned something and hopefully, they feel confident knowing how a line-following robot works.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills - planning, handwriting, spelling.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills – planning, handwriting, spelling.

 

 

Part One :: Using Ozobots in a Classroom

These tiny line-reading robots have caused quite a stir with my younger students. They love the idea that they can make them “do” something, and they learn a little bit about automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and different program languages in the process. If you missed last week’s post about these little guys, read here before continuing with this article.

Planning to use Ozobots in a classroom

Planning to use Ozobots in a classroom

Since purchasing these robots, I have been in a constant “test and observe” mode when they are being used by young children. First, my own children and I played with them when they first arrived at our house. Armed with nothing but markers and a large sheet of paper, my boys (ages 6 and 9) and I enthusiastically drew lines and waited for the robots to obey our commands.

Random line drawings...that eventually became connected to see how far the Ozobot would go.

Random line drawings…that eventually became connected to see how far the Ozobot would go.

Next, I did a little research on how everyone else was using them. The educator community for Ozobots isn’t as extensive as it is with Scratch or Littlebits, but they have a few ideas on their web site. Finally, I came up with a general plan of action for my campers (ages 7-14), but ended up throwing out some of those plans as I watched and observed how they enjoyed using them. As a teacher, I am always changing my lesson plans, but here is my general guideline for using the Ozobots to assist young children with these programming concepts.

1. Have fun. Catch their interest.
My first rule of thumb with any new material is that it should first gain a child’s attention. If you have to explain ten rules on how it works, then that might not be the best way to start. You can add those lessons in later, but begin as simply as you can.

My first lesson demonstrates how they work. Grab a black marker and draw a line (in front of the students) and show how the robot follows it.

IMG_0773Of course, you need to calibrate your Ozobot each time since it compensates based on light and its sensors, but the teacher can do that before the lesson. Or, if space and time are tight, do it for the kids, but don’t make a huge deal about it. Calibrate it and then draw the line. You can point out the thickness of the line (since Ozobot doesn’t read skinny lines), but most likely they will pick that up in the next lesson.

2. Don’t explain. Just give them a large piece of paper and a black marker.
There’s something about using a very large piece of paper that makes an activity extra special. For now, hold onto the Ozobots. As a teacher, you will be delivering small group instructions to each group.

Keep an eye on the small group (3-4 students per table or paper) that you think will finish drawing first. Go over and tell the students about the Ozobots.

3. Keep it Simple. Safety.
These little robots cannot hurt the students, but the student can damage them by accident. And, at $50 a piece, you want to keep your Ozobots as safe as possible. Talk to each group about how the Ozobots read the line (color sensors at the bottom). These sensors are very sensitive. Just like our eyes, we wouldn’t want to poke our fingers into them…same thing goes with the Ozobots.

Before placing the Ozobot down, run your hand over the paper and be sure the marker is dry. Do this lots of times before you place the Ozobot on their paper. This will teach the students that we also want to keep the Ozobots from getting any ink them. Keep the sensors safe.

Place your Ozobot on their paper and gleefully watch as their bots follow the path they made. Take the Ozobot with you and ask the kids to make a connecting line between each child’s drawings. Or give them another sheet of paper. Tell them you will return in a few minutes. Move onto the next group. Repeat the lesson.

4. Play.
There is a lot of research on how humans actually learn and much of it is related to our ability to play. At this point, we’re only introducing the Ozobots as a plaything. We’ve talked about the idea that they are robots and they have sensors, but that’s it. Let the kids draw lines, test out new markers, write their names with connecting lines and see what else you can make them do. Do not move onto the next step until you see kids running their hands over the paper to ensure the marker is dry.

Stand back and enjoy the pictures that they create. Ask the students to explain in detail how and why they drew what they did. Ask questions…what would happen if you added a line here? Would the Ozobot always choose that line?

A student's drawing - that also tells a story.

A student’s drawing – that also tells a story.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Introducing the Color Codes.

 

 

Ozobots and Computer Programming Concepts

Black Ozobot with color-reading sensors.

Black Ozobot with color-reading sensors.

Earlier this year I came across this new and interesting line-following robot, Ozobot. After looking over some general reviews (here and here), I decided to order four of them for my summer camps. In the past few months, I have used them with a number of children and I have noticed that they have a definite appeal with the younger set — kids who are younger than age ten. I think here’s something about using a marker and making the robot do what you say. It’s very empowering for young children. They all know how to draw with a marker!

Ozobots follow thick lines drawn on paper. They user sensors to detect the line.

Ozobots follow thick lines drawn on paper. They user sensors to detect the line.

Most of the students I’ve worked with have had some experience with the notion of computer programming and sensors. Using these robots is another way to stress the concept of “talking” to a computer through it’s language. Ozobots have their own color-coded language which sometimes works…and sometimes doesn’t. Just like “real” computer programming.

At first, I found this annoying, but eventually realized that this was the best way of learning. Yes, even adults need reminders to have a growth mindset.

While working together, we have to figure out why the coding didn’t work…was it that particular color of marker? Did it have too much white in it? Did we remember to calibrate the Ozobot? All of these questions mimic the questions a computer programmer needs to consider when trying to find the bugs in his or her program. Once the kids understood this concept, they were remarkably understanding. They were very willing to try and figure out the problem…and quite accepting of the fact that they might have to start over.

Next week, I’ll lay out my “plans” of introducing Ozobots to children. Stay tuned!