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:
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…