TESTING TOOLS FOR TEACHING ROBOTICS & PROGRAMMING – CHILDREN UP TO 9 YEARS OLD

Welcome to the second part of our review about tools for teaching robotics. This time, we are taking a closer look at products designed for working with younger children, aged 6 to 9 years. Out of all products recommended for this age group, we thoroughly tested Dash&Dot, ScottieGo!, LEGO Education WeDo 2.0 and Ozobot sets. We have also included short descriptions of interesting products for even younger pupils, such as Robot Turtles, LittleCodr, or DUPLO Simple Early Machines. You can find these reviews here. The previous article, focused mainly on robotics solutions for working with students above 10 years of age, is available here.

ROBOTICS OR PROGRAMMING?

When it comes to robotics education tools for children under 9 years old, there’s currently only one reasonable choice – LEGO Education WeDo. However, in order to present some sort of choice, we decided to widen our research spectrum and take a look at other sets, which also strive to achieve a similar educational outcome. Thus, we also tested out several most interesting, in our opinion, sets for teaching the basics of programming.

Before you choose programming over robotics, you must be aware of what you lose in the process. Robotics workshops incorporate development of motor skills and exploring basic STEAM topics at the same time. Its influence on children’s creativity is invaluable. Nonetheless, even if students get acquainted with only programming, they will surely to profit from it. Either solution gives them a chance at becoming creators of technology, not merely its passive users. Mitch Resnick from MIT Media Lab, who co-founded Scratch, explained it well:

Young people today have lots of experience and lots of familiarity with interacting with new technologies, but a lot less so of creating with new technologies and expressing themselves with new technologies. It’s almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies..

Needless to say, not all of your students will grow up to become professional programmers. Yet it is more than probable that understanding and working with code to create websites, apps, or manage online shops will soon become a basic requirement on the job market – pretty much like being able to use Word or Excel. And don’t forget soft skills that flourish while learning how to program, but rarely in other conditions. Computational thinking, decomposition, reasoning, error correction, problem solving, logical thinking, cognitive abilities and creativity – they all evolve when one’s learning to code. These competencies may prove to be more important and useful for today’s students, than theoretical knowledge of other subjects. Why is that? The world is changing so rapidly, we can no longer predict what children of today will need once they grow up.

Therefore, if the limited schedule or costs of purchasing equipment for robotics workshop impede you from introducing robotics to your school, you should definitely consider programming. If you still need convincing, more information on why it’s crucial to teach children programming can be found in another article, available here.

OUR TESTS

Every educational tool was tested in terms of its efficiency in the school environment, or after-school classes.

Every product was assessed in three categories, which take into account several aspects. The KIT category grades the set content from multiple angles: what are possibilities and building mechanics of the set (in the LEGO set case), how durable are the elements, whether the set helps children to develop their motor skills and creativity. In the PROGRAMMING category, we tried to evaluate whether the programming software is age appropriate, what are its possibilities and educational value, as well as how user-friendly the product actually is. Since some products make it possible to program in several environments, we assessed them separately, in order to compare them later. The final category, quite essential from teacher’s point of view, is the CLASS USE. It takes into account the time needed to start the lesson with the chosen set, its availability, the quality of materials provided for the teacher and logistics in the classroom. As you are probably aware, the overall logistics is influenced by multiple factors: the very box the set comes in, time and means of construction, power supply, connectivity between the robot and a device, even the space needed to work with and store the sets.

Every category and every aspect of it was graded on a scale of 0 to 10. The category score is the average of individual aspect scores, while the total score is the average of all categories. Please note that the total score is indicative only – since usually, you can program in more than one application, the final assessment is more dependent on the PROGRAMMING category. Therefore, if you are considering purchasing the set and using it in your classroom, we recommend you to pay closer attention to scores in individual categories, rather than the overall outcome.

It should be underlined that we only tested physical sets. No products available in digital version only, such as Scratch or Code.org were taken into account. However, they are mentioned in this article, since as far as tools for teaching programming are concerned, they can constitute equally good (if not better) alternative for the boxed products. What’s more, digital products are usually less costly – some of them are available completely for free. Of course, apps for teaching programming greatly vary in quality, so if you’re not sure where to start and lack time for research, we vouch for Scratch. This tool for learning programming is widely recognized and well-liked by numerous experts, completely free and recommended for children from 8 years old.

ROBOTICS FOR TODDLERS? (4 – 6 YOA)

Let’s start with a short, but essential digression. The subject of robotics for 4-year-olds simply must be addressed, because we often receive requests to recommend tools for teaching programming and robotics in kindergarten. And we do understand where these questions come from. After all, every caring parent wants to ensure their child a good start in life and sometimes, they might think that the sooner the child starts learning, the better.

MIn our opinion, conducting robotics and programming classes for children younger than 6 years old (especially in groups) has little sense. Even the simplest education tools for teaching robotics and programming require some basic skills: being able to recognize numbers, letters and directions, having elementary motor skills, ability to work in group, capacity to concentrate on one task for at least 30 minutes and so on. We would be truly amazed, if a product for efficiently teaching robotics to 6-year-olds and younger kids appeared on the market. Some developmental barriers are just impossible to overcome.

Even so, it doesn’t mean the topic must be avoided until the 6th birthday. Already in kindergarten, you can successfully introduce activities with elements of algorithmic thinking, or composing task sequences. The education tools market offers a variety of interesting materials that can help. Some of them don’t even require computers, or any other electronic device, which is a great asset when working with such young children – it’s truly unplugged. And while these solutions will definitely work in kindergarten, we recommend using them at home, for parent-guided activities and playtime.

Robot Turtles

Board game intended for children from 3 to 8 years old and one adult. The game teaches basic programming concepts, such as creating instruction sequences and testing the code, somehow unexpectedly. It even introduces loops and functions! The child’s objective is to guide the turtles to their destination by creating a sequence of instructions, which are executed by the adult (if they have a sense of humor, the better!). This board game is, in fact, a cardboard programming simulator. The Robot Turtles were financed by means of crowdfunding – this product was the most promoted board game in the Kickstarter history. A real treasure.

Cost: $24.99

Littlecodr

Yet another product brought into the world by Kickstarter. This time, the programming process is imitated by using game cards. Littlecodr is recommended for children from 4 to 8 years old and relies on a similar idea as Robot Turtles. Every card holds a simple instruction, such as “go forward”, “turn left”, and is labeled with both text and image. Children arrange cards in a sequence to control the adult, as if he was a robot. In addition to game cards, the box contains 12 mission cards with tasks to accomplish. You can try to create similar cards on your own – several bloggers tried and succeeded.

Cost: $19.99

DUPLO Early Simple Machines

In addition to simple algorithmics, young children this age might be curious about mechanisms. To spike their interest, you can use LEGO Duplo Simple Machines, recommended from 5 years old. In addition to the classic Duplo bricks, the producer included some gears, beams and elastic bands, which allow to create gear transmissions, hoists, or even windmills powered by little hands. The set also contains building instructions and teacher materials for 12 lessons. It’s a great kit for kids who get captivated by engineering marvels.

Cost: $149

FIRST ADVENTURE WITH ROBOTICS (6 – 9 YOA)

The best time to venture into organized robotics and programming classes falls around 6 – 7 years of age. By this time, children already have sufficient knowledge and are able to focus long enough to actually benefit from such classes. By building robots, children develop fine motor skills, and thanks to working in groups, they learn cooperation and efficient communication. Robotics and programming encourage computational thinking and allow for better, deeper understanding of STEM matter, than it is in the case of theoretical classes, or one-time workshops.

Numerous tools and kits are available for this age group. Currently, Dash & Dot, ScottieGo!, Ozobot and LEGO WeDo are found among the most popular ones.

Dash & Dot

Best for: children 8 – 9 YOA

Use at: home, robotics club

The very moment they got released, Dash&Dot by Wonder Workshop became no.1 edcuational toy for many parents and bloggers. They received numerous prizes; they were also named the best STEM toy by Bill and Melinda Gates. However, was this market hype well-grounded? Do they work in school environment? Let’s take a closer look.

KIT (AND ACCESSORIES)

Dash and Dot belong to the same robot family designed and sold by Wonder Workshop. Dash is a mobile robot equipped with: an efficient drive – to move around and dance, a motor – to move the robot’s head, distance and touch sensors – for interacting with surroundings, several programmable diodes, microphones and a speaker – for simple communication with the operator. Dash also has 3 rotatable sockets, where you can attach accessories. Dot is a smaller, non-mobile Dash counterpart.

The most obvious inconvenience of this solution is visible straight away – the robot is completely closed. You receive a robot that’s already been put together, so there is no option to build anything on your own. Therefore, it cannot be used for developing motor skills, or teaching basic mechanics. Creativity is also hindered when working with this set. Boxes containing the robots are quite sturdy and can be used for storing them between classes. The robots themselves are durable as well. Both models are equipped with high quality batteries that allow for 5 hours of work non-stop. But the batteries are built-in, so Dash and Dot must recharge for several hours after classes. The charger is included in the set.

To expand the robot’s potential, you can purchase accessories. Both Dash and Dot can be fitted with a launcher, a xylophone, bunny ears (and tail), a bulldozer bar, a tow hook, or building brick connectors, which allow you to attach a self-made construction from LEGO (2 of these are included in the basic Dash equipment). Producers also offer a smartphone mount, but it’s not available for sale in all countries. Out of all accessories, we enjoyed building brick connectors the most. As a matter of fact, it allows you to build almost all other accessories (and many others) by yourself, thus compensating, partially at least, for the closed and inflexible platform. The xylophone is the only accessory you cannot build from LEGO bricks. Unfortunately, the one offered by the producer is absolutely not worth buying. For a relatively high price you get a poor-quality, mistuned instrument, which suffers ruthless beating from Dash, despite calibration.

PROGRAMMING

Without any cost, you can use 5 apps offered by the producer. They are available for tablets and smartphones with Android or iOS systems and you can download them via Google Play or App Store. All applications are recommended from 6 years old and are available only in English, recognized by the producer as the “universal programming language”. You think it’s a good strategy for an educational tool intended for children? The producer sure does. Every app comes with a short guide for teacher.

Go

Go app allows to remotely control the robot, move its head, make simple sounds. There’s also an option to control robot lights. It’s more of an introduction to other apps, rather than a standalone product. Remote control isn’t very educational, after all. The very first activation reveals a problem that repeats in all applications for this set: whenever the screen goes dark, the app disconnects from the robot. In order to use it, you must either disable auto-lock on the device, or make peace with the constant necessity to reconnect.

Path

The Path app introduces children to implementing event sequences by planning and completing adventures of Dash. In truth, the application has few possibilities and can get confusing. As a result, it gets boring really fast. Perhaps if one considered using a robot mat available in the producer’s offer, there would be more uses for this app.

Xylo

Xylo is supposed to teach programming by composing music. It is a visual app for programming melodies on xylophone, which is an additional accessory for Dash. The user is “programming” the melody by manually adding points to respective colors, which symbolize xylophone bars.

Even according to the producer, this app has merely an “educational aspect”, which is really meager in our opinion. Although creating music has a great learning potential, in programming as well (note that programming can become an amazing supplement to learning music), the Wonder Workshop app does not meet these expectations.

In order to use the app, you must additionally purchase xylophone, which for the price of $39.99 should definitely have better quality. Expect to receive a mistuned musical instrument, which Dash whacks so hard that the produced sounds are… not pleasant, to say the least. Despite calibration, Dash often makes mistakes and hits in between bars. And when it comes to the app itself, it is very modest and imperfect. You can program a sequence of sounds and switch their places, or repeat it up to 4 times and add the robot’s movement. But you cannot change the tempo, or regulate the way the sound is emitted. In this app, whenever the display is automatically shut off, the connection with the robot is lost and Dash cannot even complete the composition. Not recommended.

Wonder

Wonder app, right next to BLOCKLY, is probably the most worthwhile solution from Wonder Workshop. Interface contains several elements: Controller, which controls the robot similarly to the Go app; Scroll Quest, where you can find challenges to solve by using Dash or Dot. To complete a challenge, you need to appropriately arrange a sequence of robot instructions. Every new task teaches new commands. We managed to complete several of them and found Marco Polo from the Firefly Lagoon to be the most enjoyable one. The objective is to program Dash so that it can follow you around the room, guided only by your voice. The Inventor’s Log contains a list of user achievements – collecting them encourages to play more. The last tab, Free Play, allows children to arrange robot instructions freely and create their own sequences.

This app certainly has an educational value, yet it still doesn’t offer real learning how to code. The robot instructions are too broad. You can easily make the robot “dance” or “turn left” with just one command, but the essence of the problem is “how to make the robot turn left?”. In other words, which motor, in which direction, for how long to activate in order to achieve the desired effect? For the majority of 8-year-olds, these tasks will prove too easy to teach them anything. In our opinion, this app will work best for children of 6 and 7 years old, for whom these tasks may actually be challenges.

Playing with Dash requires quite a lot of floor space. In many cases, Dash reacts to sounds from the world around it. As a result, it’s hard to imagine working with several robots in one room at the same time. Because of that, the set doesn’t score high in terms of working in groups. The app can be used on smartphones, but we recommend working with tablets. The icons are tiny on smaller devices and are difficult to touch. Again, whenever the screen is turned off, the app disconnects from the robot.

BLOCKLY

The most interesting app designed by Wonder Workshop is BLOCKLY, inspired by the widely known and appreciated Scratch. The interface of BLOCKLY, based on the Google product with the same name (Google Blockly), looks similar to the Scratch one. There is palette full of blocks, which you drag to the scripts area and arrange according to your objective, thus creating your own project. Once the program is launched, it activates consecutive instructions, which are performed in real world by Dash or Dot. In that regard, the set has an advantage over Scratch. A physical object moving around right next to the child stimulates its imagination much better than a virtual image displayed on the screen. Also, this method promotes deeper understanding of individual concepts. And even though it’s possible to take Scratch beyond computer screen with LEGO WeDo robots (more on this topic), Dash allows to control many motors and sensors at once – which gives it a serious advantage.

The application has a nice built-in introduction with 13 tasks referred to as Puzzles. One by one, they present blocks available in the palette. One of them teaches how to move the robot’s head and control its lights, another shows how to make the entire robot roll around the room, etc. The recommended age could perhaps be slightly elevated. After all, this app imitates Scratch, which was designed for users of at least 8 years old. Actually, due to the number of elements you can control in Dash, BLOCKLY could even be slightly more difficult than Scratch.

COST

All possibilities of the set considered, we think that Dash & Dot are somewhat overpriced. To buy Dot, you must spend $79.99. Dash, its more attractive cousin, equals spending $149.99. If you aim for the most cost-effective set that includes both Dash and Dot with accessories, prepare to give away $329.99 ($279.99 discounted).

Producer also prepared special sets for schools:

Club Pack: 2 x Dash + 2 x Dot + accessories = $870.00 ($695.00 discounted)

Classroom Pack: 6 x Dash + 6 x Dot + accessories = $2335.00 ($1895.00 discounted)

Tech Center Pack: 12 x Dash + 12 x Dot + accessories = $4609.00 ($3595.00 discounted)

CONCLUSIONS

According to the producer, Dash and Dot are supposed to introduce young children (5+) into the world of algorithmic thinking. Friendly “character” of the robots and simplicity of apps support this claim, but the necessity to use tablets and no translation whatsoever contradict it. What’s more, the simplest applications for these robots (Go, Path and Xylo) don’t really teach algorithmic thinking and their quality leaves much to be desired. The interesting apps (Blockly for learning programming and Wonder for having fun), on the other hand, are clearly designed for older kids, around 7 and 8 years old. We suspect that this curious situation might be a result of high market competition in this age group, which pushed producers to forcibly present Dash and Dot as robots for younger children. They are supposed to seem more “universal”. Nonetheless, for younger kids, we would opt for simpler solutions, which introduce some elements of programming without using tablets, or computers. Then again, for older students, Dash and Dot may become boring real fast, because they are completely closed. They would be playing with an expensive educational toy, not learning through genuine didactic tools.

The development of creativity, mentioned by the producer, is not as significant as in the case of other sets available on the market. The platform is closed and the only means of modifying it is via accessories and building-brick connectors. So yes, you can encourage creativity, through programming and mischievous pranks – often shown in the advertisement videos. Surely, these sets can teach you how to solve problems and think computationally. They can also be a great tool for learning programming. Nevertheless, there are better and cheaper solutions available.

ScottieGo!

Best for: children 7 – 9 YOA

Use at: home, school, after-school classes

ScottieGo! is an interesting solution from the Polish market of education tools, designed to teach programming. The game connects the digital world with the real one. It tells a story of a friendly alien Scottie, who got lost on our planet and needs help to find replacement parts for his spaceship. To control Scottie, you need to design algorithms on top of your desk, by using cardboard tiles with programming instructions. When completed, the algorithm is scanned with a tablet or a computer (though a camera) and executed by Scottie on the screen. We tested the educational version of the product, with more tasks and additional teacher materials.

KIT

The ScottieGo! kit contains a license number, which you will need to download the app and gain access to materials for the teacher, and a booklet with elementary information on how to start work. There’s also a paper board to help with establishing workspace and 179 cardboard tiles with instructions. The box includes a tray for storing tiles and sorting them into categories. Besides start and finish tiles, which must be at the beginning and end of every script, there are 7 differently colored categories of tiles.
Red action tiles control Scottie’s movement (make a step, turn right, turn left, jump) and allow him to interact with objects (lift, put down, use, draw). This category also includes a tile that names or changes value of a variable. Orange tiles are used to open, expand or close various kinds of loops and conditional statements (repeat, if, if not, end of loop/condition). Blue logic tiles, despite our first idea, do not include logic instructions. In this category, designers placed parameters to be added to other instructions, such as object placement (here, on the right, on the left), name of a variable (x, y), or mathematical characters (plus, minus, equals). Green tiles allow you to switch between controlled characters. Besides Scottie, there are three colorful animals that help to accomplish his goal. By default, all actions are executed by Scottie, so these tiles indicate which parts of the code are to be executed by someone else. Purple instructions define and invoke functions. The last two categories are navy blue tiles, which include objects you can indicate in the script, and brown tiles, where you can find numbers from 0 to 9. 
In total, the set delivers 56 different kinds of tiles (both instructions and parameters) and many have several copies, so you can use them more than once in the program.

All elements of this set are rather durable. The board, the tiles and the storage box will no doubt serve for a long time. However, working with the set is not trouble-free. Although including copies of several tiles was a good idea, the cardboard menu becomes less legible because of it. Often, it’s difficult to find and take out exactly the tile you need. Yet it’s even more frustrating to put away the tiles in the right place – children won’t be too happy about it. After a few tasks, you can expect piles of tiles on top of every desk. Hopefully, they won’t land below it – use the box cover as a temporary storage for tiles. You could be thinking it makes little difference where they end up, but making sure tiles are not exchanged between sets is actually important. Every tile has a printed QR code that matches with one set; if you use tiles from differing sets to create a program, you can expect errors. Therefore, not only must you be very cautious during work, you must also have a lot of space on your desk: for the tray with the tiles menu, for the box cover (serving as temporary storage), for the programming board, and of course, for the tablet or computer with camera to scan the assembled script. That’s a lot. Moreover, after every class, someone will have to put the tiles in order. The storage system is a bit too complex for children to do it on their own. To sum it up, working with this set is a logistical challenge. Even more so, once you realize it’s possible to achieve a similar educational effect by using a similar, but purely digital solution (for example CodeMonkey – for slightly older children).

PROGRAMMING

The ScottieGo! app, where the assembled programs are executed, is really good. It is available for tablets and PC with webcam installed (go for an external one, not one that’s built-in). You can download the app from the producer’s website (PC) and from Google Play or App Store (mobile devices). The installation is smooth, scanning the completed program with camera is also surprisingly unproblematic. The scanned program usually has no errors and is rapidly interpreted by the app, thanks to simplified QR codes placed on the tiles. We tested this app on Windows PC with webcam and on iPad – we encountered no problems in either case.

Taking first steps is easy with this app. After a short introduction about Scottie’s story, the user has an option to create one’s profile and adjust basic settings. Next, you can start programming. The tasks are sorted according to their difficulty into 10 modules (91 tasks) in the education version, or into 7 packs (60 tasks), if you are using the home version. Every module is composed of 1 to 4 lessons, all of which come with a short introduction explaining new tiles and their function. The next step is to solve tasks in every lesson by assembling the appropriate program. The completed program is scanned with a webcam and you can observe how Scottie performs it on the screen. If the solution is correct, another task becomes available. The app lets you know, whenever the task could be solved in a simpler manner – then you can go back and readjust the code.

It took us four full hours to complete all tasks, but children will probably need more time. Contentwise, lessons are good. Modules start with basic movement control, proceed to loops (also nested ones) and their usage, then introduce functions. Unfortunately, designers didn’t succeed with creating an interesting explanation of variables; in this app, variables merely store the number of steps Scottie has to take, or the number of loop repetitions. It’s worth underlining that these tasks really encourage creativity. Every task can be solved in multiple ways, by using various tiles – there is no “one right way”. In several lessons, you come across a series of very similar tasks, the difficulty of which grows too slowly – it may discourage some students. What’s more, somewhere on the way, the plot gets… confusing. Replacement parts for the spaceship are received only at the end of each module, which may come unnoticed and doesn’t really motivate students. And in the meantime, Scottie organizes athletic competitions for snails, lights beacon in the lighthouse and swims on a beaver to complete individual tasks – it hardly fits the initial story.

MATERIALS FOR TEACHER

Principal didactic materials include lessons integrated with the app, which children follow on their own, or in small groups, by using the set and devices available on their desks. The materials for teacher come with a digital version of instructions for the set, a file with game boards that can be printed out and additionally used during lesson, as well as an assemblage of solutions for all tasks.

COST

ScottieGo! Home Edition: €50.71

ScottieGo! Education Edition: €74.71

CONCLUSIONS

ScottieGo! is an interesting solution for teaching programming to children from 6 years old – but they must already be able to read well. The product was well designed and well made, which translates into easier use. The set creates framework for introducing basic programming concepts, but also more advanced ones; it successfully incorporates learning with computational thinking and error correction. The low price of this product and flexible materials make it possible to organize classes in places, where limited budget and short lessons prevent from creating robotics classes.
However, you should remember that the educational value of the set is comparable to that of cheaper (or completely free) apps, available only in digital version. This set doesn’t come with advantages of robotics; there’s no deeper and faster understanding of programming concepts thanks to observing a real-life object. The opposite situation, where the program is assembled from real-life tiles and executed on the screen doesn’t deliver the same benefits, unfortunately. The set has one possible advantage over purely digital solutions – some children may prefer this type of learning and remain interested for a longer time. But is it worth spending money and dealing with logistical issues? It’s up to you.

LEGO Education WeDo 2.0

Best for: children 7 – 9 YOA

Use at: home, school, after-school activities, robotics club

It’s already the second edition of WeDo set for teaching robotics and programming for children in primary school, produced by LEGO Education. The set is a result of cooperation between LEGO and Mitchel Resnick, creator of Scratch. The box contains LEGO construction elements, for building various mechanisms, and electronics: one motor, two sensors and a hub that connects your model to the computer. Completed robots can be set in motion by using a simple visual programming language. The set allows to organize an interdisciplinary class with elements of robotics, programming, but also mechanics and physics. By building robots with your own hands, you are sure to develop motor skills and ability to cooperate (work in pairs – it’s absolutely worth it). The robots themselves present various mechanical and physical solutions, they also stimulate children’s imaginations. Finally, programming and testing teaches how to create and apply algorithms, think computationally and solve problems. All of that while playing with LEGO bricks.

KIT

LEGO WeDo 2.0 elements are enclosed in a handy, wide and flattened box made of durable plastic. Inside, there’s a tray for sorting bricks (with labels) and a paper list of all elements. Sorting elements into particular categories makes it easier to find them, which significantly shortens the time needed for building.

Contents consist of diligently selected 280 LEGO bricks. You will find axes, cogwheels, wedge belt wheels, construction beams, rubber bands, angle connectors and many other interesting elements, with which you can create almost an unlimited number of different models. To easily visualize its possibilities, take a look at RoboCAMP courses designed for working with LEGO WeDo: CityCAMP, StarCAMP i SafariCAMP include 36 different models designed according to various themes – from physics and mechanics, through astronomy and even biology!

Electronics of the set include: one motor, two sensors (distance and tilt) and a SmartHub, which allows to connect robots to a computer or a tablet via Bluetooth. Electronic elements come with durable cables with convenient plugs and sockets. Robots are powered by the SmartHub, wherein you can put either two AA batteries, or the dedicated LEGO battery. All elements are heavy-duty, but the smaller parts can get misplaced. Fortunately, the producer offers a wide selection of spare parts: you can purchase small sets assembled by the producer, or buy the parts separately.

If you’re looking for a comparison of this set to the previous WeDo version, check out our review published here.

PROGRAMMING

LEGO WeDo 2.0 sets can be programmed in the dedicated WeDo Software environment for computers and tablets, or in Scratch – by adding the official extension. At present, Scratch is not available for mobile devices. The main problem of the WeDo 2.0 set is the connectivity issues between the robot and the computer. Even though the producer decided to go for Bluetooth 4.0 technology, which makes the robot (almost) free from the computer, it generates problems during the initial activation. Usually, this issue is solved by buying an additional Bluetooth dongle, but we highly recommend trying to connect the set before the purchase.

WeDo 2.0 Software

LEGO WeDo 2.0 software

WeDo Software is the simplest programming environment we know – even six-year-olds can use it. To work with it, your pupils must already know numbers from 0 to 9, directions (left, right) and at least several letters. The remainder of the coding process is very intuitive (more so for children than for adults!), as it relies on the drag-and-drop method. To create a script, colorful blocks with icons must be placed in the editor area and arranged in the appropriate sequence.
The scrolling blocks menu is located at the bottom of the screen and contains multitude of blocks divided into colorful categories. Green action blocks control the motor and the diode of the SmartHub. Red blocks play sounds and display images and text on the screen; they also allow performing mathematical operations on the displayed numbers. Yellow blocks help with the flow of the script: there are three different start blocks, loop, wait block, and blocks with signals to control other scripts in the program. The menu also includes inputs – smaller blocks to put under the main ones. They contain parameters that you can define yourself, select at random, or that are specified by the current sensor readout. Once you consider the simplicity of this environment, its possibilities are quite spectacular. If you’re a teacher, you will be able to introduce majority of the most important programming concepts; if you’re a student, you will be able to create many advanced programs.

LEGO WeDo Software was obviously designed with touch screen in mind. It results in some awkward changes for PC users: scrolling the menu, clicking and holding instead of right-clicking… While it’s not a big problem, these changes may be frustrating when first using the program, especially if the user is not aware they exist.

Scratch

Scratch with WeDo 2.0 Extension

Scratch is the most popular VPL for education purposes. First created by Mitch Resnick from MIT, it’s now considered a benchmark in programming education. Even now, software developers designing solutions for learning how to code take Scratch into account, if not imitate it. With this VPL, children aged 8 or 9 can create games, animations, or interactive forms. To use Scratch, you must know how to read, count, and understand certain mathematical concepts, such as the coordinate system (location of all objects on the Scene is defined with coordinates).

Programming happens by connecting colorful blocks with text instructions. Kids join these blocks intuitively – they create a script and test out their ideas, just like they do when building from LEGO bricks. Thanks to this coding method, simple programs are created almost organically and each program becomes an inspiration for next ones. Scratch interface includes palette with 10 categories of blocks, scripts area, where you assemble your program, and Scene, where you can add objects, program their behavior and display sensor readouts and variable values.

Scratch is available online and offline. The online version is available through any web browser, which means you don’t need to install any software. To use its offline version, simply download it and install on your computer. Depending on the robotics set you use, you will need the WeDo 1.0 or WeDo 2.0 extension. Both of them are official Scratch extensions, created by the same MIT team that designed Scratch. In order to program LEGO WeDo 2.0 robots in Scratch programming environment, you will also need to install one additional app called Device Manager. You can find more information on how to use LEGO WeDo with Scratch here.

Blocks added through the extension allow to control WeDo motor and sensors, so programs created in Scratch can actually move beyond computer screen. Programming WeDo robots can also be a great introduction to programming in Scratch only. Usually, robots require straightforward programs, which are easily understood by students, because the physical object performs programmed actions right next to them. After learning the basics, students can commence more advanced Scratch projects: animations, or perhaps games. Unfortunately, Scratch programming environment is available only on PC.

MATERIALS FOR TEACHER

Materials included in the LEGO Software include an introductory project (simple and likeable mobile robot Milo), with 8+8 additional projects. The first part contains materials with robot building and programming instructions. The second one consists of lesson ideas with short descriptions and images of mechanisms that children can design and build themselves. To execute these projects, the teacher must be experienced and provide students with more support. All projects revolve around ecology. In the programming environment, you can also find interface and blocks descriptions – available in English only, unfortunately.

In the official materials, the producer provides no information about programming the set in Scratch.

COST

LEGO Education WeDo 2.0: $175.95

CONCLUSIONS

Currently, LEGO WeDo is the only well thought out set for teaching robotics to children below 10 years of age. It is simple and versatile, so it’s not surprising it works well in class. By using it, teacher can familiarize students with numerous concepts from STEM fields, introduce elements of mechanics and physics, and develop students’ motor skills and creativity. Moreover, programming WeDo robots comes along with all advantages of coding: encouraging computational thinking, solving problems, error correction… All of the above packed in a child-friendly solution, because the programmed object moves in the real world. We vouch for working in pairs – students that build and program in pairs learn how to communicate and cooperate more efficiently.

From the logistic point of view, the set is amazing. The box allows to sort elements and facilitates storage, the parts are durable and easily accessible, the building and programming takes little time, the possibilities are huge, and there are two programming environments with varying difficulty levels. Overall, LEGO WeDo is a remarkable product.

Ozobot

Best for: children 7 – 12 YOA

Use at: home, school, after-school activities, robotics club

Ozobot is a tiny mobile robot that can be controlled by drawing colored lines on a surface, or programmed by using an environment similar to Google Blockly. We tested the original version of the robot – Ozobit 2.0 BIT.

KIT

The set doesn’t contain much. Besides the tiny robot, ready-to-use right after unboxing, the kit includes a rubber skin for the robot, a case, a USB cable for charging, a demonstration board and a short instruction. Local distributors may throw in some additions. The one in Poland, for example, equipped us with an information sheet on how to calibrate the robot and control it with colors. We also found a set of felt-tip pens to draw boards for the robot.

The box is durable and neat, but taking the robot out of it isn’t very convenient. However, you can get rid of the box completely and only use the case provided. At the moment, we cannot say much about how durable is the robot itself. Among our main concerns is the possibility of accidentally destroying the robot, or just… getting it lost during class. On the other hand, a full supply of these takes more less the same amount of space as one LEGO set, so it can fit anywhere. Learning with Ozobot also requires little workspace. Therefore, it’s a perfect solution for tiny programming workshops.

PROGRAMMING

Ozobot can be connected to PC and several mobiles devices with iOS and Android systems. The method of uploading program to the tiny robot is a curiosity in itself. Its structure is transferred by light signals, so once you calibrate the robot, you must simply place it in the designated place against the screen. This solution completely bypasses the connectivity problem, often encountered in other sets.

The moment you take it out of the box, Ozobot will be able to recognize color sequences, follow their trail and fulfill tasks coded therein. By using pencils, markers, or the Ozobot app for tablets, you can simply modify the robot behavior. Producer refers to it as “programming with colors” and encourages to use the set with children as young as five-year-olds. In our opinion, it’s closer to controlling than programming. Despite elements of planning and problem solving, this introduction to programming is not very valuable in the educational sense. How the robot works is deeply hidden and its functionality is highly abstract – merely playing with Ozobot is hardly educational.

For teaching programming, the OzoBlockly app is much more useful. The producer recommends it for children above 8 years old, but we think you can try creating programs with kids even one year earlier.

OzoBlockly

OzoBlockly

OzoBlockly is an online app for programming BIT and EVO Ozobots. You can use the app through internet browser on PC and on tablet. Programming process relies on the drag and drop method, and programs themselves are created from colorful blocks. The app has a simple, intuitive interface with the blocks palette and area for programming. Below the blocks palette, there’s the Flashing tab, which you use to upload the completed program to the robot. On the right side of the screen, you can find all additional functions. Besides the user login, or settings, there are some interesting materials to be found. For instance help tab, with descriptions of available programming blocks, examples of programs and 4 challenges (in English only) and a window, where you can see how the designed program would look like in JavaScript – useful especially for older students.

Another interesting feature of this app is the possibility to switch between difficulty levels. On every level, you will find a different selection of blocks. It can prove especially useful when working with children of varying ages. Note that whenever you change the difficulty, the materials on the right change as well.

On Novice level, one can use only blocks from three categories: Movement (controlling movement), Light Effects (controlling diodes) and Wait (introducing pauses). Blocks available in these categories have simplistic icons, with symbols and numbers only. It means that you don’t need to know letters, language, or have any coding experience. Visually, they resemble icons from WeDo software, and they should work with the youngest pupils. The Beginner level introduces another category: Loops, which help with expanding programs. The further you go, the more advanced the blocks get. In addition to symbolic representations, every block has its name now and options to change parameters. The parameters themselves are described in a simple way at the beginning, such as: move forward, speed medium, etc. Intermediate level introduces yet other categories: Line Navigation, with advanced instructions to control the robot, and Logic, with conditional statements. Advanced level presents the entire blocks palette and makes it possible to use variables, functions and mathematical operations. New, more complex block appear in all categories and their parameters are more precise (distance in mm, speed in mm/s, rotation in degrees, light color in RGB).

When the program is ready, you can upload it to the Ozobot by using the Flashing tab. But right before, remember to calibrate the robot so that it can adjust to the screen brightness. Next, put the activated robot to the indicated spot and click Load Bit. You will see a myriad of colors underneath the robot – that’s the uploading process. Usually, it’s quite smooth, but can become tedious if you often test the program. If the uploading process does not succeed (diode shines in red), you should calibrate the robot and try once again. If it was possible to add loops from Beginner to the Novice level, it would create a great tool for working with younger children. In this version, the simplest blocks offer too little possibilities to maintain interest for long.

MATERIALS FOR TEACHER

OzoBlockly environment contains information about all available blocks, 19 programs examples and 4 tasks to complete. On the producer’s website, there are several lesson plans (divided into lessons and activities) available. Their topic varies – some include coding in OzoBlockly, some take into account “programming with colors”. Materials are available only in English and kind of plain, unfortunately. You are most likely to outlines of lesson plans with tasks of diversified quality.

Interestingly, distributors can also contribute in this area. EduSense (distributor in Poland) designed a series of lessons with Ozobots, aimed at students of primary and middle schools. The package comes with 40 lessons that differ in difficulty and use various solutions to control the robot.

COST

Ozobot 2.0 BIT: $59

Ozobot EVO: $99

CONCLUSIONS

Ozobot is a compelling product. Its educational value is comparable to Dash – a much more expensive tool by Wonder Workshop. Actually, in our opinion, Ozobot is even more interesting from several angles. We were most impressed by OzoBlockly app, which proved to be of great quality, and the program uploading process. However, materials for teachers are humble and therefore, any teacher working with Ozobots will need to prepare himself more, than it is in the case of Scottie Go! or LEGO WeDo.

That’s the end of sets we tested during the last six months. As you might have noticed, robotics selection intended for children aged 6 to 9 is modest. LEGO WeDo remains on top with almost no competition. However, if you decide to go for programming only, more options become available. What do you think about these solutions? Let us know in the comments. If you are considering to buy yet another product for your robotics workshop and would like us to test it out, send a message at support@robocamp.eu.

By | 2018-07-09T13:20:30+00:00 October 13, 2017|