Sunday, 6 July 2008

Robosapiens at St Antonys

At St Antonys we worked with the handheld controllers for the first two sessions only as I wanted the children to learn to program the Robosapiens using the computer software. This followed Nic Hughes' advice that the children can find the software slow when compared to the controller, so maybe it's best not to spend too long with the controllers first if intending to program using the computer software and the infra-red Robo-blaster.

Session 1
In the first session I split the children into small mixed-ability groups and set them the task of ascertaining the functions of different key combinations using the blank template available on this Blog and in the resources supplied with the software. This was a useful exercise as the children took care to fill in the blanks rather than just pressing buttons randomly. At the end of the lesson I gave the children a completed template of key functions(same sources as previously) so they could check the accuracy of their findings. The children were very enthusiastic about using the Robosapiens and took turns to operate the Robosapien and record their results.

Session 2

In the second session I set the children the task of making their Robosapien perform a 'party-piece' of their own design, but with the condition that they must write down their commands on a scripting sheet first, so they had to think about what commands were needed to perform each action. The children then demonstrated their 'party-pieces', which included picking up an object and throwing it ; walking, turning and burping; a dance of their own design.

Session 3
Having tried the 'Go-Robo Controller'(KS2) software at home and found it very slow when passing commands to the robot, I decided to proceed with the 'Go-Robo Programmer'(KS2/KS3) software. Also, the 'Go-Robo Controller' software appears little more than an online scripting sheet and therefore appears to me to have little useful purpose. I took half a class at a time into the ICT suite as we only had 6 Robots.

I started off by demonstrating the Robosapien dancing to T-Rex, which is available via a link on the software Resources page. I then told the children that their outcome at the end of several more lessons was to program their own routine for the Robot(I suggested no walking movements due to the cramped nature of out ICT suite). The 'Go-Robo Programmer' software comes with a well laid out programming page with a list of 'Gridscript' commands and a library of examples of sub-routines, which exemplify how to do iteration, simple loops, nested loops, pass variables and use conditional statements etc.

Unfortunately (as warned by Nic Hughes), when transmitting via the infra-red Robo-blaster, there were problems. The link from the Go-Roboblaster would break intermittently on some interfaces. This was very frustrating for the children and time-consuming . The troubleshooting page lists several possible reasons why this may happen, but in a live lesson not the easiest thing to sort out.

Another thing to note is that to program the Robosapien in Main Programming mode, in order that the program can be activated by the handheld controller, is only possible for 20 commands.

In session 3 the children became familiar with the software and the layout and the use of iterations as a way of repeating commands

Sessions 4 and 5

Before session 4s and 5 I loaded the latest fix to the Robo-blaster software. I did get fewer problems with the software communicating via the Robo-blaster with the Robosapien but on some machines the programs ran very slowly or stopped during running(reasons unknown).

In session 4 the children explored loops and nested loops using the Repeat/Endrepeat commands. The higher ability children understood this readily but many of the middle and lower ability children struggled with the nested loops.

In session 5, which I did with a smaller group of higher ability children only, the children explored passing variables and using conditional statements. This session was successful in helping the children understand that different commands could be carried out depending on their interaction with the program in running.

In summary as a way of teaching simple programming:-

The plus features for structured programming are:-

  • easy to understand 'Gridscript' programming language
  • clear programming page with useful examples
  • automatic indentation of the code by the software helps with iterations and loops

Negative features:-

  • Non-diagrammatic form of program coding can be difficult to understand for the middle to less able
  • Problems with the interface between software, robo-blaster and robot