Talking to Robots

I don’t know too many kids who aren’t fascinated by autonomous, moving things. Whether it’s a remote-controlled car (not strictly atomonous), a robot, or even a puppy, kids love to watch things that move by themselves. Given the chance to tinker with such things, kids go bananas!

Harnessing the inclination to tinker was a big part of the reason we introduced Beebots into our primary curriculum this year. Letting our kids explore programming as a problem-solving skill offered a more compelling reason from a teacher’s perspective. For those unfamiliar with Beebots, they are little robots disguised as bees that offer an excellent introduction to programming and sequential thinking for young children, and there’s a lot a class can do with them.

In Grade 1 we had just completed a unit on robots where we investigated what they are, what they do, and why humans make them. When we designed and made our own box-sculpture robots, but the kids really wanted them to work like real robots. Introducing Beebots became followed naturally, and the students were very pleased now to have real robots.

Gr1 Robots

We began with an introduction to Beebots, what they can and can’t do, and then the first graders had a play with them. There were no specific programming goals at first; just allowing the students time to get familiar with what we can make Beebots do. With most technology, I really like to give kids a chance to mess around at first; lots to be learned this way.

Beebots 1

Next we used an assortment of Beebot mats to provide the kids with specific programming goals. We have, for example, the Beebot race track, and kids are to program their Beebots to complete the racing circuit and avoid barriers. Many kids found it helpful to move the Beebot by hand through the course as they programmed each direction, one at a time.

Beebot Mats

One child noticed that the Beebot mats all had grids on them, and this led to our investigation of how far a Beebot travels when programmed to move forward once. With this information we created our Beebot rulers and were now ready to make our own Beebot paths. The students did this, first on our floor with whiteboard markers, and then on large pieces of chart paper which they decorated.

Beebot Paths

From here we moved into talking about the need for ‘coding’ because, no matter how politely we ask, Beebots can’t understand us when we say, ‘Move forward, please.’ Beebots use symbols to stand for words and this is code. I asked the students to write the code that would allow a Beebot to successfully navigate their own Beebot paths.

Beebot Coding

This inevitably led to our investigation of ‘bugs’ in our coding and the skill of ‘debugging’ a program. Listening to a child exclaim, ‘There’s a bug!’ when her Beebot goes off course, and then speak seriously about the need to ‘debug’ the program provides evidence that not only do the kids enjoy programming Beebots, but they understand that they have to power to both make and, more importantly, correct their mistakes. The students are well aware, at least at this level, that they control the robots, and that the real automony belongs to the kids.

Beebot Misc

If you’re looking to get your younger students started with Beebots and programming there are some excellent resources to be found here:

ICT Learning Innovation Beebot Guide

Beebots Down Under