Robotics for Education – An Engaging Way to Code

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Robotics for Education – An Engaging Way to Code

Category: In Class
Robotics for Education – An Engaging Way to Code
by Paul Smith-Keitley

The Government in the UK has mandated that all students from KS1 upwards must learn computer programming and while this is definitely a step in the right direction, it doesn’t always find a way to engage with every student.

Working with block based coding languages such as Scratch and Blockly make it easy for younger students to write simple programs, but often the thrill of seeing a cartoon cat and his buddies wanes pretty quickly – enter the robot.

What are educational robots?

Robots come in all shapes and sizes, from the mouse sized Edison from Australia to the Meccanoid from Canada who stands more than a metre tall.

The benefit of robots is their ability to extend the programming process beyond the computer screen and into the real world. Depending on the robot used this extension can be made bi-directional. In other words, as well as being able to use the computer to make the robot move in the real world, you can use an array of sensors and cameras to bring the real world back into the computer.

It is this level of true interaction that makes robotics a totally engaging way of learning coding and there are numerous ways of being able to use robots as a coding platform, from solving a maze to building towers with blocks or they can even be used for drawing and creating artwork.

As students get older robotics move from relatively simple, open the box, charge me and then program me to complete experiential learning projects that are able to be fully cross curricular and include not just elements of programming, but also design, science, mathematics and engineering.

What types of educational robotics equipment is available?

A couple of great robotics products at this level are the EZ-Robot kits and the SAMLabs SAM modules. The EZ-Robot kits come from Canada and are based around the EZ-B controller. This powerful controller has tons of I/O built in, including video, analogue, digital and I2C. The controller can run its own OS or Windows 10 IOT. There are a full range of sensors and servos available with third party add ons also available. One thing that really makes it stand out is it’s clip together technology allowing you not only to easily connect components together, but also to use 3D printers to create new parts to solve particular problems, for example longer limbs, different shaped chassis’, grabbers, etc.

The SAM Labs robotics kits on the other hand take a completely different approach. They are basically small modules about 2cm square that connect to a PC via low power Bluetooth. These modules provide functionality like motors, lights, sounders and servos as well as a range of switches and sensors that provide input from the real world. The stand out here is the fact that the kits also provide a whole series of virtual blocks that provide access to functionality such as Twitter, Facebook and IFTTT, this enables the students to create distributed machines that can use both local and remote input and become truly interactive.

– Paul Smith-Keitley