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.