Working with robots – a set of tools to conduct remote classes (and other educational activities)
Remote education does not mean you cannot use physical teaching aids, such as an educational robot in your classes. If you have not used educational robots before, now is the best time when remote learning has been imposed on your students. In the future, when you finally go back to your schools or libraries, you can carry on using robots in your regular classes. Below you can find a list of tools I use myself in my remote classes, and they are doing their job for me.
Before any robot gets to your class, you can design with your pupils a robot or any other machine to help them in their everyday lives. Things to consider:
- What are your everyday challenges?
- What do you not like doing?
- What would you like to improve?
When I chat with young people about robots, they often come up with an idea of a robot that cleans up their toys, makes up their beds, or does the homework. Once you have your ideas, you could try the “Make a robot” web application to design one (web app access: https://www.abcya.com/games/make_a_robot)
Web app use: free access, no login required, very intuitive interface suitable for kids of any age and skill level. The only downside is the sound. I suggest to turn it off right away. You can print out your designed robot or save the design file on your computer.
If robot designing got you interested, why not go further with this concept. For example, by getting the Photon Robot. If you already have one, you can have a brainstorming session to come up with accessories that would make it more attractive or useful. Perhaps a marker holder or a bulldozer? There are many tools out there that could help you create a project and use a 3D printer to make accessories for your robot.
The most fun we have in my classroom is when we do things together. Remote classes make it impossible for us to be in the same room, but we can still work together on a shared screen. This is possible thanks to virtual whiteboards, the one we use is called Awwapp (available here: https://awwapp.com/). This whiteboard allows you to place previously prepared graphics, e.g., a grid, frequently used in coding lessons so that you can turn into a meadow, space, math puzzles (be as creative as you can). A sample grid to use on the Awwapp whiteboard is available here.
Examples of using a virtual grid mat:
- Place an image of the robot on the virtual grid mat and decide on a field it has to reach. Then, to make this activity more attractive or challenging, add some conditions — place numbers on selected fields. The children must design the robot’s route so that the sum of the numbers equals the number you have given to them on the final spot. You can also write the code together on the whiteboard. That’s your maths lesson plan ready!
- On the mat, place graphics of birds that fly south for winter and those that don’t migrate. Then make the Photon Robot visit all fields with birds that don’t migrate for the winter. This way, you combine a nature class with programming. On the other hand, coding together is an excellent opportunity for children to practice teamwork skills.
Website use: free access, no login required, intuitive interface, all you need to do is send the link to your pupils. At this point, everyone works together on the same whiteboard towards the success of the whole group.
When the Awwapp virtual whiteboard does not cut the mustard for you (e.g., due to chaos, too many participants, disappearing fields), you can use yet another web whiteboard (available here: https://whiteboard.fi). This excellent tool allows giving access to individual virtual whiteboards to all students in your class. Each pupil gets his or her own whiteboard, and you, as a tutor, can see what is happening on each of them (children’s coding progress or ideas).
Website use: free access as with the Awwapp, no login required. First, you need to create a new class, give it a name, send the link to participants, or provide them with a QR code. Participants must only click on the link and provide their nicknames. Done! Everyone has a virtual whiteboard that you can control.
Nothing makes children (and not only them) happier than seeing their work on display. If the children manage to make SOMETHING original (a piece of art, code cards, etc.), encourage them to share their work on the padlet (available here: https://padlet.com). Padlet is a virtual wall where you can post graphic files, links, etc. As the teacher, you can post screenshots from Awwapp or whiteboard.fi whiteboards so that the children could follow the class or their own progress. The padlet wall could become your chronicle of programming classes and more.
Website use: account registration required; the number of virtual walls is limited. You can also change privacy settings so that your wall is a private space.
I am sure that among these tools, you can find something for yourself. Give them a try in your classes with children. If you know any other useful tools you would like to share for my or other educators’ benefit, please let me know in the comments section below – I will be happy to test it. You are welcome to post a link or share your report on class activities.
About the author
Mariola Fik – once a dedicated librarian, now a coach and author of educational materials promoting children’s creativity development and programming. Mariola is a coach in the Digital Dialogue Association (Poland). Mariola programs, explores new technologies, and prepares creative designs with children and young people. She also collaborates on the Amazon STEM Kindloteka project. On top of that, Mariola is also a lead methodologist in the “Mission: Programming” project.
In 2018, she was one of 100 educators awarded by SPRUC (Poland) for developing digital skills in children.