Last term I was lucky enough to be given a couple of these little fellas to play with. If you aren’t aware of them, these are called Ozobots and they are pretty amazing.
I’m always looking for things to fit the “control and stimulate external systems” part of the primary computing curriculum and these seem to fit part of that bill. Comprised of a small unit on wheels (about the footprint of a Swartz spice bottle) that contain a mini-USB port for charging and a set of light sensors they really are value for money.
They work on the same premise as a factory robot; basically following a black line until told to do something. In the case of the Ozobot they are controlled by a sequence of colours that the user can draw using the marker pens provided in the kit (I’m sure Sharpies would work just as well). As you can see, the colour codes cause a change in the robot’s behaviour, speeding up, slowing down, turning etc. The kit contains some pre-drawn maps that can be used to reverse engineer the codes or you can give children the code map, a large sheet of paper and some problems to solve.
Battery life is good too – I’ve used them for a whole afternoon of teaching on a single charge without failure (6 units).
There is also an iPad app that allows you to program the ‘bots to patrol the screen – however I feel that this artificially limits their appeal, all the activities I have done have been based on large paper sheets.
Set up the session by using a YouTube clip of a car factory, the 1980s Fiat Strada one is good if you can get hold of it. This shows the idea of robots being pre-programmed to do a job rather than being manually operated. Leading on from this can be a discussion about how we can delegate repetitive tasks to robots by programming them; you can also discuss a little programming history here, punch tape/card, block languages, coding etc as a link to other parts of the computing curriculum.
I then let the children play for a while, getting them using Ozobot on the provided maps to see if they can work out that the colours are the control mechanism. At this stage they have not seen the colour chart. Some will make the connection between the colours and the change of robot behaviour without prompting. Let them explore in this way until they all see the correlation. Then introduce challenges. For the more able, don’t give them the colour codes – let them use what is on the printed maps and work it out. For the less able, use pre-printed black tracks with gaps to add colour. Try something from the printed map then give them the colour chart and challenges.
I’ve had these running riot around the classroom, however they are hardy enough to take falling off a table etc without coming to harm. They are relatively cheap though if they do get damaged but, in my experience with them, they are probably going to survive most things in the primary classroom except probably being stood on by the teacher.
Ultimately they are engaging. Having them out at the start of the lesson when children come into the class is fascinating to watch. They require no training for staff, I gave a set to another teacher to use in my new school and they explored them together with the class.
I’d seriously recommend Ozobots to any KS2 teacher looking for something different to use for physical computing. If you are near Northumberland then the LA run a course on them which includes a free kit in the course fee (free if you are in the SLA). There are also discount opportunities for class sets.
If you would like any more information then look at ozobot.com or get in touch.