I’ve been teaching primary robotics for some time now as part of the computing curriculum that I write for iCompute. I teach with and have produced schemes of work for robotics from EYFS to Year 6 using BeeBots, LEGO WeDo, Sphero and parrot drones to name a few.
Whilst teaching computing itself can be daunting for many teachers, the prospect of the added pressure of actual things being whizzed around classrooms through code can push many to avoid the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing altogether!
The rapid pace of advances in technology means children are growing up in an age dominated by embedded computer systems and robotics. It is crucial they have an understanding of its impact on the world and their own futures. Teachers need to be in a position to provide pupils with the level of knowledge, understanding and skills they need to live in the modern world.
Including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM subjects) in early education provides a strong motivation for learning and an improvement in progression. Teaching robotics is a great way of connecting with children and enables schools to engage the potential engineers and computer scientists of the future.
Most curricula in primary schools cover science and mathematics, but we need to do more in teaching problem solving, computer science, design, technology and robotics.
The use of robotic systems and robotics as a subject offers an introduction to the engineering design process and sets children’s learning in a fun, meaningful, contexts. The fundamental principles of computer science are applied and made easier as models and devices can be designed, constructed, programmed and executed in front of pupil’s eyes. This makes it much easier to learn what robots can and cannot do: their capabilities and, crucially, their limitations.
We’ve recently put all of our robotics units into one primary robotics pack that covers the controlling physical systems aspects of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 (pupils aged 5-11).
I’m also including some free activities as part of our contribution to this year’s Hour of Code, adding to those already featured last year and still live. As the Hour of Code launches each year in December, I’ll be adding a nice festive twist to my teacher-led activities. Hint: Santa’s sleigh is broken but he has a drone! Here’s a sneak peek of the cover…
HOC iFly Cover
Check out my other blog posts for teaching tips and advice about how to manage programming physical devices with younger children. I cover:
Using drones in schools has the potential to take learning, literally, to a higher level. As they continue to become increasingly practical, attainable, tools for education, teachers around the world are now using drones in their classrooms for STEM and STEAM activities.
In computing, programming drones helps develop children’s skills in algorithms, programming and computational thinking as well as addressing the ‘controlling physical systems’ objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2. Exciting curricula and drone lesson plans are being developed that help teachers develop confidence and make the most out of connected devices.
Drones are revolutionising business and industry: engineers use the technology for site surveys, filmmakers capture images that would otherwise be unseen, drones are used in agriculture; farming; conservation; military operations and parcel deliveries. The potential for the application of drones and the rapid growth in the technology is huge. Understanding how they work, their potential and how to control them through coding prepares children for the modern working world.
iCompute lead the way in teaching and learning using educational technology. In anticipation of 3D robotics becoming the next big thing in education, we have extended our connected devices offering of comprehensive, step-by-step lesson plans, computing resources and assessment toolkits using Sphero and LEGO™ WeDo by adding an amazing, creative, 6-8 week coding with drones unit aimed at upper KS2 Computing (pupils aged 9-11 or higher).
Children learn how to program parrot drones to fly, create aerial shapes, navigate obstacles, fire ‘missiles’, pick up and drop objects all set in imaginative contexts. They program Santa’s ‘sleigh’ to deliver presents before going on an epic journey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away to take out the Death Star for the Rebel Alliance!
The Force is Strong with This One…Visit our website to unleash your power!
I recently published two new 4-6 week physical programming units to iCompute’s Key Stage 2 scheme of work; which I blogged about in my post Teach Programming with LEGO™ WeDo
I admit to a rising sense of panic as I approached my first session: young children, small LEGO parts, computers and stuff that moves! However, we’ve been having a great time and thought I’d share some of the practises I’ve found necessary to manage these very active learning lessons.
First of all, get organised before each session. I’ve found it’s much better to work on the floor to prevent bouncing bricks, so book out the school hall if you can or clear your classroom of desks. I’ve assigned each pair of pupils a LEGO WeDo Construction kit and a labelled basket for their models. I also arranged space in the classroom for a ‘robot parking lot’. Whenever I need everyone’s attention, or if we’ll be working on the same model a few weeks in a row, we park the robots in their baskets on top of the construction kit boxes. This helps keep the kits organised so that, combined, the model and the kit = a full construction kit.
You need to be really firm about pupil movement around the space you’re using with LEGO parts! I use hula-hoops placed around the hall with big gaps between them. I explain the necessity of keeping the models and construction kits within hoops to that we don’t lose the parts. The children have been great, understanding the clear rules and why we have them.
Organisation is key!
In order to work on the floor, you’ll need either laptops or tablets. If you don’t have either, the children can transport their models in their baskets (always with their kits) to the desktops; but make sure they have plenty of space between them to program and operate the models.
I used the amazing LEGO Digital Designer to put together building instructions as a basis for each of the models the children would be making and programming. Don’t worry, you won’t have to if you are an iCompute school because I’ve done all that for you. Simply print and hand out to the children. If you fancy having a go yourself, you can virtually construct a model of your choosing and then opt to create the build instructions which your can display in a web browser or print. Love it!
Build Instructions for LEGO WeDo
Whilst build instructions can be vital for some pupils, there are still plenty of opportunities for creativity for others and I allow those the freedom to design, create and program their own models with only a rough guide.
I’ve been really impressed with how well the children have responded to physical programming and how smoothly the lessons have gone. I hope some of you find my tips useful and please let me know how your lessons go.
This week sees the launch of iCompute’s new six week programming unit for Year 3 and 4-5 week unit for Year 4 which uses LEGO™ WeDo to teach children how to program robots and models in primary computing lessons.
Lego WeDo is a fantastic opportunity for children to bring the physical world to life through code. They build models using the bricks they know and love and then program them interact with the world around them!
Using robotics promotes interest in science and engineering, as well as computer science and helps develop motor skills through model building. Mechanisms, built by and ultimately designed by, the pupils themselves set computer programming in a meaningful context. Children learn more quickly when a model executes a program, physically, right before them.
The robotics elements of LEGO WeDo include motors and sensors. Our new units do not require the full educational LEGO WeDo sets to be bought. Schools that already have plenty of bricks and parts can simply buy the robotics parts that will enable models to move, sense and interact with the physical world.
LEGO WeDo has two versions 1.0 and 2.0. Our units provide support for both and the principle robotic parts remain the same at their core (albeit with enhanced features for 2.0).
The Hub: The WeDo hub connects models to your device. You can connect up to two sensors (motor, distance sensor, or tilt sensor)
The Motor: When connected to the hub, the motor can be programmed to turn on/off. It can also be programmed to adjust power, direction and duration
The Distance Sensor: The distance sensor can detect how far away an item is in front of it
The Tilt Sensor: The tilt sensor detects how far it’s tilted from left to right.
You can also connect and program LEGO Power Function lights which do not come with WeDo packs as standard but can be bought on their own and connected to the hub too.
As already mentioned, you can buy the robotic parts separately if you have plenty of LEGO bricks; however it is still possible to pick up education sets of WeDo 1.0 at a fraction of the price of WeDo 2.0. Search online for LEGO™ Education WeDo Construction Set 9580 (make sure it’s the construction set you are buying). I managed to buy 6 sets of WeDo 1.0 at £70 each compared to £150 each for LEGO™ Education WeDo 2.0 Core Set 45300.
Programming LEGO™ WeDo
iCompute uses MIT’s Scratch to program models. LEGO WeDo does have it’s own software that comes as part of the kit, but I don’t feel it offers the same opportunities for enhancing physical programming through storytelling so have chosen to use Scratch instead.
There are two versions of Scratch: 1.4 and 2.0. Scratch 1.4 is an offline editor that you download and use without the need for web access. Scratch 2.0 is available as both an online and offline version. Regular readers will know that I prefer 1.4 for primary aged pupils as the interface is cleaner and the debugging options are better. Scratch 2.0 however does allow models to be connected to tablets, as well as computers. You can use both versions of WeDo with Scratch 2.0, however you need to install a device manager and extension in Scratch 2.0 for them to work.
The teacher guides contained within the unit provide comprehensive guidance on the options and their respective setups.
Using Scratch and LEGO WeDo enables pupils to create some amazing models and stories to accompany them.
What Pupils Can Do with LEGO™ WeDo and iCompute
Programming, using software , designing and creating working models
Using the software to acquire information
Using feedback to adjust a programming system output
Working with simple machines, gears, levers, pulleys, transmission of motion
Measuring time and distance, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, estimating, randomness, using variables
Doing narrative and journalistic writing, storytelling, explaining, interviewing, interpreting
Design: Use STEM principles to explore Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and design models
Build: Improve motor function, communicate and collaborate with others in building working models and robots
Program: Create animated stories, and program models to interact with the story & physical world
Digital Literacy: Create factual and imaginative animations and narratives that explain, interpret and tell stories
Test : Use physical output as feedback to to detect errors easily
Debug: Correct errors found when models don’t behave as expected
Evaluate: Critically analyse work and that of others and discuss what is good, or not so good, about them
Improve: Revisit models and code then cycle through this process from ‘Design’ onward to make things better
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently written a primary programming robotics scheme of work as part of my role as a primary computing master teacher with Computing At Schools and having been kindly loaned five Sphero. @cas_lancaster will be lending these lesson plans and resources out as part of their equipment loan scheme and the complete unit and associated resources, assessment guidance etc, now forms part of the iCompute for iPad scheme of work.
Today, I presented at #CASLancaster16 conference about my experiences of teaching with Sphero. Here is the free programming unit that CAS Lancaster included in their USB Key given to all delegates.
As part of my role with Computing At Schools (CAS) as a Primary Computer Science Master Teacher, I have recently been fortunate enough to teach using Sphero, having been lent a set by @cas_lancaster. The task was to produce a set of step-by-step Sphero lesson plans and associated teacher and pupil support materials for primary teachers to use. That is all now done and I’ve had great fun creating our new robotics unit – iCompute with Sphero – which forms part of our iPad pack , as well as being available separately. It will be lent out to other local schools by @cas_lancaster. Teaching progressive lessons using Spheros enables primary schools to meet a number of the objectives of the National Curriculum for Computing at Key Stage 2 Specifically:
design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information
iCompute with Sphero
iCompute – Features Flowchart
Here, I share my experiences of using Spheros with primary pupils and give some general advice and classroom tips about how to use them effectively, engage and challenge your pupils.
What is Sphero?
Sphero is a robot ball with several features that can be controlled though apps and also includes the facility for pupils to create their own computer programs. The main features are:
Rolling – Sphero can roll at specified speeds and directions
Colours – Sphero can light up to a specified colour
Bluetooth – Sphero connects to mobile devices through wireless Bluetooth
As Spheros are connected to iPads via Bluetooth, preparing to use them in your classroom before your roll up brandishing them and creating general hysteria is vital! Make sure all are fully charged and that your have paired each to a particular tablet in advance. Each Sphero flashes a unique sequence of colours when they are ‘woken’ which can be used to identify them. A Sphero will appear on your tablet’s Bluetooth list using the initials of the three colours it flashes in order, Eg. Sphero-RGB for a colour sequence of Red, Green and Blue.
I added stickers to each of the Spheros with their unique name, as ‘YGO’, ‘RGW’ etc., and also to the corresponding tablet I’d paired it to. This made distributing them and the iPads much easier when in class.
You need lots of space to use these. I used the school hall. I refer back to ‘Preparation’ for this as it may be something you need to organise. I forgot on my first session and arrived with a very excitable class to a hall full of lunch tables. The first half of my lesson therefore involved getting those out of the way.
You can also buy covers called a ‘Nubby’ for outside use.
I tried this with one of my classes and we had to come back inside as it was sunny and therefore impossible to see Sphero’s tail-light: essential to be able to aim it to move in the direction you want it to go. Also, we had iPads and the children couldn’t see the screens.
Now on to the good stuff. My specialism is teaching primary pupils aged 5-11. I think Spheros are suitable for Key Stage 2 pupils, children aged 7-11.
I suggest your first session focus on teaching the children how to wake Sphero, Orient (aim) it and control it using the standard Sphero app. Each Sphero comes with, amongst other things, a pair of ramps and once the children have got used to moving Sphero forward and backward with reasonable accuracy, add the ramps and other obstacles to make things interesting and develop accuracy further.
A lesson, including step-by-step instructions for both teacher and pupil for this are available in our robotics pack.
iCompute with Sphero
The following lessons progresses to using the Sphero Draw N’ Drive app enabling the children to gain greater control and begin to understand that Sphero can be controlled to perform specific actions.
I then move things on for the rest of the unit to programming Sphero using Tickle.
We created quizzes that the children programmed Sphero to move and change colour to answer. This presents great cross-curricular opportunities. We create algorithms and program Sphero to be our dance partners for Physical Education. Also, mazes to navigate with excellent links to Mathematics for distance, direction and angle work. The children also program Sphero to travel the globe, linking to Geography, using a free floor map from National Geographic.
Using robotics in the primary classroom presents creative and engaging opportunities for the children to extend what they have learned about algorithms and programming in Computing by understanding that physical systems can be controlled too. With the right blend planning and imaginative resources, using Sphero’s in your classroom has the potential to inspire the next generation of software designers and systems engineers! The possibilities are exciting…