Hour of Code

Last week, our school participated in a worldwide initiative called The Hour of Code. This project is designed to help promote computer sciences in all classrooms and to spark the curiosity of children while they are young.  It also helps to show children that computer programming can be as simple as playing games.

Our Pre-K students worked with the members of our technology department from the city campus and discussed how robots need instructions or commands in order to do a job. Some robots react to buttons or joysticks, while others use voice and face recognition. When you write code, you need the same ingredients.

We then played a game where one teacher pretended to be a robot that needed instructions from the students on how to build a tower of blocks. Instructions like “build the floor” were not specific enough for the robot to know what to do. The students had to really think about what words they needed to use for the robot to understand. Directions such as “pick up the rectangle block and put it on the floor” gave enough detail for the robot to do his job.

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After our discussion, we broke up into small groups and played an app called Daisy the Dinosaur. The students had to choose different actions for Daisy to do. At first, the students just picked one action at a time, then they began making long lists for Daisy to accomplish. When they felt that the list was complete, the students hit play and watch Daisy perform her silly dance of flips and turn, growing and shrinking.

The students loved the idea that they were in charge of that happened to Daisy, and more importantly, that they were able to do it independently. We encourage you to look into some of the activities that promote computer sciences at home as well http://csedweek.org/learn . Perhaps someday your little one could be the next computer engineer!

Nano Experiments

Thanks to our visiting robots, one of the students was inspired to bring his Hexbug Nano as well.  If you’ve never encountered one of these little things, you’re in for a jittery surprise.  They move around via vibration and are great for following paths and mazes set out by our wee inventors.

Our pile of recycled items, collected for robot designs, took on new life as tracks for robot motion.  Three long cardboard tubes were nested together with varying success.  Two of the tubes were narrow, the size of a paper towel tube, while one was noticeably greater in girth.  The first  attempts placed the smaller tubes on either end of the larger.  This led to the Nano getting stuck at the entrance of the third tube where it was slightly higher.  After much adjusting, some squishing, and some good old-fashioned teamwork, the children discovered a way to make the tube sizes more even.  They simply unraveled the end of one of the smaller tubes, creating a larger opening that could still slide into the wider tube.

Where did it go?

Inventor’s Dream Center

“Welcome to the center for inventor’s dreams.”  Or at least that should have been the way I introduced today’s art center.  Maybe it should have been, “Let’s see what we can make with a bunch of junk!”  Instead, I simply invited the children to invent their own robot using any of the found supplies we’ve collected over the past few weeks.  So far, we have two first drafts.  I think they show lots of promise.

Robot Experiments

Our fuzzy little robot friends have been cause for much experimentation this week.  The children have been building structures to house them, race them, and test their abilities.  After some attempts at allowing the Zhu Zhus to roll on the carpet, it was decided that smooth surfaces are easiest for them to maneuver on.  Luckily, we have some large flat blocks that make a perfect floor.  The arch shaped blocks made a great bunker for the robots to “sleep” in until they were ready to be on the move.  A few attempts at ramps were also adjusted until the children found a way to butt the pieces together in a such a way that the Zhu Zhus’ wheels didn’t get stuck.

“He goes down the slide and through the door and into his playground”

A separate experiment involved speed.  Three children were taking turns placing a Zhu Zhu on the top of a ramp.  They then tried pushing the various buttons in turn to see what would happen when they let go.  Usually, it made a noise and then rolled quickly down the ramp.  Sometimes it fell off the side and sometimes it made it to the bottom and pushed the “blocking” block out of the way.  Interestingly, one of the Zhu Zhus had a second speed.  One of the children discovered  if she pressed the back button in a special way, it made the Zhu Zhu go very, very slowly down the ramp.  Then they tried to replicate the results with a different robot, but it didn’t work.  After much frustration and many attempts, I thought they would give up the process with the second Zhu Zhu, but I was pleasantly surprised that their hope and interest did not flag.

“I pressed my fingers like that [uses three fingers to press the back button of the robot], and made it go slow.”

“This one doesn’t go slow.”

“Let me show you.” [She pushes down in same manner and it goes fast, down the ramp.  She flips it over, inspects the underside and tries again.]

Although the second Zhu Zhu never did “learn” how to go slow, the experimentation, cooperation, and willingness to meet a challenge was very exciting to see.

Robots!

Today I was reading excerpts from Robots: From Everyday to Out of This World written by the editors of Yes Magazine.  One of the first concepts in the book is explaining the differences between machines, computers, and robots.  The authors state that unlike machines, robots can be programmed to complete a task.  I explained that this meant that a person, or human, can tell the robot what to do and then it will do it.  Robots differ from computers because they have moving parts.  We clarified by repeating that a robot must be able to follow directions and have parts that move.

The next conversation was about  jobs that we might want a robot to do for us.  Together we came up with the idea that if we wanted to explore a cave, but didn’t have a light, we wouldn’t want to do it ourselves because we might trip on a rock or a log.  We could tell a robot to go into the cave and explore for us first.  The robot might be able to put lights in the cave for us or might come out and tell us if the path is safe.  (We also discussed the idea that if we were grown-ups that did have a light and the right equipment, we could go and explore for ourselves.)

Talking about jobs that robots can do that we cannot or don’t want to do, I asked the children if any of them had a couch.  Of course everyone raised their hand.  Then I asked if they had dust bunnies under their couch.  You’ll be happy to know that they are not giving away any of your secrets! According to them, almost no one has these little fuzz balls in their home!  After admitting that I, of course, do have dust bunnies under my couch [long-haired dogs simply won’t vacuum for themselves!] I suggested that an easy way to clean them up might be to use a robot vacuum like a Roomba.  We looked at some pictures of one and then the children asked how it knows where to vacuum.  We realized that many of the children were familiar with Zhuzhu Pets, so we explored the idea that the robot vacuums and the Zhuzhus were similar in that they turned around when they encountered a wall.  This then led to lots of human Zhuzhus scooting around the room, changing course when their noses bumped into things.

Hmm…this got my brain churning….

Should we bring in all of the robotic hamsters we can find and create some robot mazes for them?  After a quick poll, it looks like we have enough Zhuzhus available for us to create trials and mazes for.  If your child has any type of Zhuzhu, they are welcome to bring it to school next week for our first official Robot Week!  Let’s experiment!

Robolox and the Three Bots

Yesterday, we began a discussion about robots.  We were so inspired, we decided to remake a popular story as a “new-and-improved” robot version.  Here’s what we came up with:

Robolox and the Three Bots

"The Whole Bot Family"

Once upon a time there were three bots, Papa Bot, Mama Bot, and Baby Bot.  One morning, Mama Bot made metal sandwiches for breakfast, but they were too hot to eat, so the family went for a walk.  While they were gone, Robolox knocked on their door.  When no one answered, Robolox went inside.

Robolox saw three sandwiches sitting on the table and thought about how hungry she was.   First, she tried Papa Bot’s sandwich, but it was too crunchy.  Then, she tried Mama Bot’s sandwich, but it was too oily.  Next, she tried Baby Bot’s sandwich and it was just right.  She ate it all up!

When she’d finished, Robolox began to wander around the house.  As she arrived in the living room, she saw three charging stations.  First, she tried Papa Bot’s charger, but it was too buzzy.  Then, she tried Mama Bot’s charger, but it was too strong.  Next, she tried Baby Bot’s charger and it was just right.  She played and played and played in the charger until it sparked and fell apart.

"The part where Robolox went into the Baby Bot's bed closet."

Feeling rather tired after this episode, Robolox climbed the stairs to find the sleeping chambers.  She found three closets with beds inside them.  First, she tried Papa Bot’s closet, but it was too big.  Then, she tried Mama Bot’s closet, but it was too narrow.  Next, she tried Baby Bot’s closet and it was just right.  She stepped inside and powered down right away.

While Robolox dozed upstairs, the three Bots returned home.  Papa Bot said, “Somebody’s been eating MY sandwich!”  Mama Bot said, “Somebody’s been eating MY sandwich!” And Baby Bot said, “Somebody’s been eating MY sandwich and it’s all gone! Boo hoo beep beep!”  Then they went to check on the living room.

Papa Bot said, “Somebody’s been using MY charger!”  Mama Bot said, “Somebody’s been using MY charger!” And Baby Bot said, “Somebody’s been using MY charger and it’s  been broken into bits! Boo hoo beep beep!”  After giving Baby Bot many hugs and figuring out how to fix his charger, the three Bots went upstairs.

"Robolox jumped out of the closet and the window and she runned away and she runned away and she runned away."

Papa Bot said, “Somebody’s been sleeping in MY closet!”  Mama Bot said, “Somebody’s been sleeping in MY closet!” And Baby Bot said, “Somebody’s been sleeping in MY closet and she’s still there!” All of a sudden, Robolox woke up and saw the three Bots.  She yelled, “Aaaaaahhhhhhh!”, jumped out of Baby Bot’s closet and leapt out of the window.  Robolox ran far, far away and was never seen near the Bot house ever again.  The End.