Eduporium Weekly | A Closer Look at our Robotics Progression Map

  • Posted on: August 12, 2017 - 8:05am
  • By: alarmand

If you’re an informed educator or a tech-savvy parent, you probably know that STEM skills are more than likely a ticket to success for today’s generation of children. You might also know that they can start learning these skills at a young age. You might not, however, be aware of just how young that is. You also might not know about the potential of robotics in teaching kids these crucial skills. So, we’ve launched a robotics progression map to educate, inspire, and help you integrate this extremely beneficial technology into the everyday lives of kids. It starts off simple and grows along with them, leading to linear skill development and real-world readiness.


Robotics Before Kindergarten


Robotics before kindergarten? That used to be a very strange concept and, to some, it probably still is. Think about it, though. How many toddlers do you know who are fully capable of using their parents’ smartphones to play games, download new apps, and so on? Technology is not a foreign concept to today’s toddlers even though it would seem that they’d be too young to be using it. What we’re getting at is that if they can pick up how to use a smartphone, they can pick up how to use other tools - tools that are more meaningful to their overall development. Since robotics have gotten a lot more advanced, this has also led to the creation of simple ones designed specifically for kids in this age group to get a meaningful start with technology.


At the ages of three and four, children are just starting to learn and master different, letters, numbers, colors, and shapes along with developing their smartphone fluency. For that reason and others, we’ve been recommending the Cubetto robot from Primo Toys since we came across it about a year or so ago. It’s designed specifically to introduce children to the basic concepts of coding as they control its movements on a giant map and help it navigate through a maze. Cubetto is wooden and about the size of a small laptop. It has inlets on its top side that kids can stick shapes and numbers in. These act as cues or inputs which tell the robot how many spots to move and which direction to turn. The outputs are the robot performing these physical actions and when kids use a certain input to catalyze a certain output, they are coding.


This robot helps kids work with both their hands and technology as they get a feel for coding. It also lays the groundwork for them to move on to a slightly more complex tool sooner than they would normally be able to do so. Codeybot is a gyro-like robot that also helps kids learn to code at a very young age. It’s a bit more advanced than Cubetto and is tailored towards children in the 5-6 years old range. It’s very interactive and engages kids with friendly facial expressions projected on its interactive LED screen. Codeybot helps combine learning and simplicity as it encourages kids to build and combine code to get the robot moving, talking, and dancing. Try it for productive play then work in programming as kids create voice commands for it to follow!


Robotics in the Early Grades


After kids get their proverbial feet wet using those two introductory robotics products, they’ll be nice and ready to jump right into the bots in our next tier. This powerful learning pair is designed for students in Grades 1-3 to combine robotics and technology (usually a tablet) to learn the basics of programming in a hands-on way. Kids are seeing that they can control the movements and actions of a robot by simply supplying codes that represent actionable commands. Although it’s programming at a very basic level, it is still programming, which is something that all kids will need to know how to do. This is also the point in which students can start seriously benefitting from combining two different tech products - in this case the robot and a tablet - to dive deeper into STEM learning and become familiar with two key pieces of technology in the process.


The next rung in our robotics progression ladder is the very well-known duo of Dash and Dot. While we’re aware we may not be the first ones to recommend these tools to you, there is a reason you keep hearing their names. It’s because they’re very good at engaging young children and teaching them basic coding through fun activities. First of all, their bright design and friendly features are instantly appealing to kids. Then, once they learn how to program Dash and Dot while playing games on a tablet screen, they can’t get enough! Dash and Dot can even work together and feed off of each other or they can work independently. Either way, kids create the programs using a variation of the Blockly language and Dash and/or Dot will respond!


To round out this tier, we have Sphero - the spherical, programmable robot that teaches kids all sorts of things. Like Dash and Dot, Sphero can be programmed using a tablet and a simple Bluetooth connection. It includes a gyro and rolls around at rather quick speeds. Using one of many compatible apps, students can control Sphero by moving their fingers along the touchpad control within the app. They can then progress onto creating programs and getting the robot to complete mazes, obstacle courses, and even go off jumps! So, while Sphero is a great tool for learning programming, it can also be valuable for teaching basic physics concepts and even used in history classes and other subjects depending on how creative you can get!


Moving on to Middle School


Middle school is a pretty crucial time in a child’s education. It’s been true for years, it’s true now, and it will only get more critical as STEM skills become more crucial. This is the time in a child’s life when their brains are developing and they’re starting to realize how to best apply the skills and concepts they have learned. This means that they are ready to take on tougher challenges and begin advancing these skills even further. Since this post is dedicated to our robotics progression map, you might have guessed that, by the time kids reach fifth or sixth grade, they’re ready to move on to some more powerful programming with robots. You, like usual, would be right. Sometimes I wish we were a bit more unpredictable.


First up is the Ozobot, which is perhaps the most versatile robot in the progression. It can be used earlier on in a child’s education to teach the basics of coding, but it’s a more powerful teaching tool when they can use it to its full potential. The Ozobot is equipped with a number of tiny sensors on its bottom side and it uses them to follow lines and read colors as well as color codes. When it crosses a color code, it’s programmed to complete a corresponding action, illustrating to students what they can do with coding in the process. Then, students can program it themselves using OzoBlockly, Ozobot’s online software, once they get more comfortable with it. This is when they’re able to really boost their programming prowess as they create the code themselves and transfer it over to the robot just like when doing the real thing!


The Edison Robot is actually pretty similar to the Ozobot even though they couldn’t look anymore different. Edison can also read and follow lines and be programmed using an online software once kids get more skilled with the programming aspect. It might just have the Ozobot beat in some areas, though. Edison can be programmed in a number of different ways and the way that it’s programmed is pretty unique in itself. To program the Edison, kids place it in front of a barcode and press a button. It moves forward and is then programmed in that particular mode, which can be clap-controlled moving, staying within borders, following lines, avoiding obstacles, or something else. Edison is also LEGO-compatible with LEGO surfaces found on both its top and bottom sides, making it a true tool for boosting STEM education, creativity, and hands-on learning for kids in elementary and middle school.


Options for High School


By the time students enter high school and if they’ve followed a similar path to our robotics progression, they would definitely be ready for the final tier. There are, as in all of the grade levels, a number of viable robotics tools that high schoolers could use, but we’ve selected our two favorites. These are the actual products that we recommend to teachers and principals for their students to use in their high school classrooms or afterschool programs. In this final step, students will be able to take all they have learned and put it into action. What they know about programming will come to fruition as they use high-end computer programs to compel robots to walk, talk, recognize their faces, and more!


The first of our two high school robots is the EZ-Robot JD Humanoid. There are six or seven products in the EZ-Robot line and any one of them would be good for freshmen and sophomores, which is where we see the EZ-Robot fitting in, but we believe they can learn more by using this model. EZ-Robot is modular, so students get to put it together themselves and learn how all the parts fit together to build a machine. Once built, they simply need to download the ez-builder software and connect the EZ-Robot to their laptop or computer over Wi-Fi. As soon as it’s connected, students can start building the programs by combining different movements and even music. EZ-Robot can do anything from push-ups to breakdancing or even wave to a child when it recognizes their face and it allows students to create custom programs to show their programming skills.


Now, we’ve reached the pinnacle of our progression with a robot that’s so dynamic it could bolster STEM programs for years to come. The NAO Robot is another humanoid, but it’s incredibly advanced. It boasts human-like movements with so much fluidity you’d swear it wasn’t a robot. Though it is quite pricey, NAO exposes students to the next level of robotics and programming, giving them the chance to see what it’s really like. NAO can walk and talk as well and is able to answer the questions students ask it. They can also control its movements from their computer screen and physically use NAO to help them accomplish tasks as it can pick objects up and move them around. If students make it this far up the progression, we know they’ll be ready for whatever the next robot throws their way.


Other Robotics Options for All Grade Levels


While there are only just eight robots in our robotics progression map, which you can find here, those are certainly not the only viable robotics tools to help kids learn coding, programming, and problem solving. In fact, there are a number of wildly beneficial robots that teachers can use to complement any of the robots in our progression. In all grade levels, there are additional robots that can help kids learn key concepts in different ways. It’s all about finding what works best in your particular classroom and with your school’s budget. We thought we’d throw a few more suggestions out there, though, so all educators can weigh their options before committing to one product over another.


Starting in the PreK realm, we would also be comfortable recommending students use Code-a-pillar from Fisher Price or meeperBOT, which is LEGO-compatible like Edison. The Code-a-pillar offer kids the chance to investigate very basic coding and the meeperBOT allows them to use an app to control its every move, bringing them closer to the action while they absorb some of the ways in which the technology works. In the early grades, kids can also benefit from tools like COJI, MiP, and the Robotics Smart Machines Kit from Thames & Kosmos. With COJI and MiP, students are able to interact with their robots and control their movements using emoji’s and motion respectively. Using the Smart Machines Kit, kids can build their robots from scratch, power them up, and control their movements using a simple app!


Some of the other good options for middle school include the Meccano Meccanoid’s and Cubelets. The Meccanoid’s are especially in-depth as they require students to build them from scratch before they start programming with them - and this is no small task! It’s actually a pretty tall one as some of the models stand over two feet tall, but then kids can control them using basic programming. Cubelets is a bit simpler, but incorporates device-controlled programming as well. And, finally, for another high school option, we recommend students use the XYZ Robot. It’s fairly sizable itself and kids can expand on their robotics knowledge a great deal by leading a number of interactive lessons using this fine tool. As long as kids are using robotics to help them learn, however, we’ll be happy. We just want them building their STEM skills and know that robotics tools are a great way to help make that happen!


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