Many children have seen the robotic tools that are appearing in the Library which are being purchased to support the implementation of the Digital Technologies Curriculum. They are also being used in the MakerSpace which is about to start up again for our 2016 year.
It has been interesting to see how many of them also mention that they have a sphero or BB-8 at home. It seems that these tools were popular Christmas presents. All owners would, I’m sure, know of the apps that get downloaded for free with these tools to enable them to be controlled. The robots can be moved around with these apps and, in the case of BB-8, be used to create some cool hologram effects. It’s a lot of fun but usually wears thin after half an hour or so.
The free app ‘Tickle’ is an excellent additional download for use with Sphero, Ollie, BB-8 or drones as it opens up a whole world of learning in terms of coding. It moves the user away from simply controlling the robot to coding it to respond using a drag and drop interface similar to Scratch. The website for Tickle describes it as 1000x more powerful and it is. Controlling options include the way it looks, sounds and moves. The robot can be coded to interact with other devices and to respond to actions or events. Actions can be repeated or looped and variables built into the program.
It’s worthwhile considering the new Digital Technologies Curriculum which Oakleigh State School is implementing this year. In Year 3 and 4, the students are expected to ‘implement simple digital solutions as visual programs involving branching and user input.’ In Years 5 and 6, students ‘design, modify and follow simple algorithms involving sequences of steps, branching and iteration.’ They also ‘implement digital solutions as simple visual programs…’.
Using ‘Tickle’ to ‘play’ with these robotic devices is supporting students with these aspects of the new curriculum. It effectively is a fantastic way for students to develop computational thinking whilst playing, collaborating and debugging.
The role of a ‘Makerspace’ in a school is an important one as computational thinking can be supported by opportunities to tinker, experiment and play. A Makerspace creates these opportunities. After all, children aren’t little adults – they are children who learn as much from play as from anything else. The use of robotic tools has an important part to play in the implementation of this curriculum in primary schools – both in structured cross-curricular learning and informal, play based opportunities.