Hello World

Are these the droids you’re looking for? Robotics in computing education

June 21, 2021 Hello World Season 1 Episode 5
Hello World
Are these the droids you’re looking for? Robotics in computing education
Show Notes Transcript

This week, we’re diving into the world of robotics in education, and asking are these the droids you’re looking for... to teach algorithms?! Combining technology and real-world challenges with teaching computer science concepts can be a really rewarding experience for both educators and learners, but are setup costs and teacher confidence too high a barrier to overcome?


Carrie Anne Philbin:

Oh, Pringle Bot, Oh, what a lovely device that was, mostly because I got to eat all the Pringle's before I built it. You had to!

Huzaifah Zainon:

However, I didn't like Lego. I can't be doing with it

James Robinson:

Well, I don't know if you know this about me, but I quite like Lego.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

You're the opposite to James, James loves Lego! Hello and welcome to Hello World, a podcast for educators interested in computing and digital making I'm Carrie Anne Philbin, a computing educator, content creator and not, I repeat, not a robot.

James Robinson:

I'm James Robinson a computing educator, trainer, and I'm working on projects promoting effective pedagogy within our subject. If you want to support our show then subscribe whenever you get your podcasts and leave us a five star review.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Today, we're diving into the world of robotics in education and asking, are these the droids you're looking for to teach algorithms? So James, have you ever built a robot with your students?

James Robinson:

I have. Robotics is one of those subjects that I absolutely love. And I think my interest started back as an NQT a newly qualified teacher. I went on a training session where we got to use the Lego RCX bricks, these old robotics kits where you could beam signals over Infra-Red. And I think in my first year I tried that with my students who really enjoyed it. And that kind of really cemented that passion for robotics with me and my students. And over the years, my experience, I've done a number of different sort of schemes of work with students and competitions. And it's just something that I think, yeah, they get a lot from. I get a lot from and it's really enjoyable.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Who gets the most from you or the students?

James Robinson:

Well, I don't know if you know this about me Carrie Anne but I quite like Lego. And, you know, we often use a lot of the Lego robotics kits. And so I think personally, like the prep for lessons, whether it be building Lego models for the kids to play, that, you know, I got a lot from that. I definitely got a kick from from seeing sort of physicality and the physical side of computing. And I think that's really interesting. But I think, yeah, the kids equally, they get a lot of enjoyment and challenge and frustration, but also reward from the experience. So I think I think it's in equal parts, but maybe in different ways.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, I'm certain that your enthusiasm for Lego and robotics and just computing in general probably transferred. I think if the students see that you're excited about something, then I think they also feed off of that excitement and interest anyway. And what did you find with the challenges? I mean, you know, some of these kis can cost quite a lot of money. I think sometimes it can be difficult to find the time in lessons, you know, what were the challenges that you found with doing it?

James Robinson:

I mean, I think there's a number of different challenges. Whenever you're doing something that involves Kit. And I think, you know, you've alluded to cost. Cost, it was a bit of a challenge. I think we started off with a club and as we've mentioned before, in previous episodes, great spaces to do some in`formal introduction to the concept, but also tools and hardware. And we did a competition into the First Lego League, and we used one robot, small group of kids. We saw the impact and through that, I was able to kind of convince my school that we could invest. I think one of the challenges is also about organisation. And you'll be surprised to learn this, Carrie Anne, but my robotics kit was very organised in school.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

No,no no!

James Robinson:

We had an we had a box and racking system.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I don't believe you.

James Robinson:

It was all being inventoried. No, it was very organised, very organised. I can still picture it. I think there's this challenge over. You know, it was a scheme that I wasn't necessarily always teaching myself. Other teachers were teaching it. So there was a bit of upskilling of of staff around me. But I think one of the challenges that students often found is whenever you're entering that kind of the physical space with computing, particularly robotics, there's a there's often a difference between what you tell the robot to do and what the robot does. Umm that's a challenge. And always, the weakest point of all robotics competitions, was never the programming. It was always. "Well, I want to build a robotic arm that's going to move this thing over here". And the kids would stick together three bits of Lego, the flimsy little robot arm you've ever seen with no mechanism in it. It was that design and mechanics that was their kind of, they struggled with more so maybe than some of the programming concepts, which I found really interesting and maybe just thought that was just my experience. But I think there are a bunch of challenges here. But I think if you can overcome them, then it is such a rewarding experience. I remember actually you've got a bit of experience with robotics. I remember, It was a couple of years ago now, but I remember you of your your Pringle bot that you made.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Ah Pringle bot.

James Robinson:

Tell out listeners a little bit about, about Pringle Bot.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Oh Pringle Bot, what a lovely device that was, mostly cause I got to eat all the Pringles before I built it.

James Robinson:

You had to, you had to.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I had to do that. Yeah. Really. I mean robotics for me as a computing educator I would often try and look for ways to inspire my students with different things, different activities and things. So people used to always say. "Robotics, do robotics", and then what they would follow that up with was look at this robot arm and then they would show me this robot arm, which quite often was an off the shelf purchase, plugged in to a computer via USB. And they had programmed it to lift something up and put something down. And I felt like I was the only person, I would look around and be like, you're telling me this is the greatest thing ever and this is going to inspire my kids and this is what robotics is, because to me, I just wasn't getting the same excitement from that. So I've always had this really tenuous, negative kind of outlook on robotics in education because I couldn't see past the robot arm. And then one day I met a teacher called Bill Harvey and Bill Harvey presented to me a biscuit tin. And this biscuit tin had motors and it had wheels and it had little eyes and it sensors everywhere. And you opened it up and it was full of electronics. And then Bill said to me, I made this with my students. I started an after school club with my 9-11 year olds. And every week we just we just thought, what you want to do, you want what you want your robot to do. And then they would make it do that thing. And then the next week. So they started out, you know, just get some motors working. The next week was like, well, OK, we want to build it into something so it can move. And they thought about recycling and upcycling stuff. So that's where the biscuit team came from. And then the next week they would say, well, I want it to stop hitting the wall so they would add an ultrasonic sensor so it would measure the distance and not hit the wall. And he said to me look, Carrie Anne I'm only one week ahead of these kids, my subject knowledge here is not, you know, this is not my background. I'm just learning as I go along based on what the students are asking for. And we're doing this together. And it kind of really opened my eyes to what was possible. And at the same time, I met a teacher called Nic Hughes who was doing a lot with Crumbles in with that sort of age group that young age group. It's a sort of microcontroller you can program with block based programming which makes it great for young children. So I was messing around with that and then I, I sort of remembered Bill and saw a can of Pringles, stuffed them all in my mouth very quickly to empty the can of Pringles and then turned into a bit of chassis. So my journey into robotics in education was a sort of very strange. I didn't come at it from the same way you did, which was sort of full of excitement and enthusiasm. I was very dubious about it. And actually it was by learning through other teachers that it could be an interesting journey with my students. Does that make sense?

James Robinson:

Yeah, it does. And I remember I remember Bill, I remember Biscuit Bot, but I also remember he told me about one of his students had brought in a rollerskate.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Oh, yeah.

James Robinson:

I want to make this rollerskate into a robot. And the kids would just bring in anything that could move anything with wheels or just turning it into some kind of robotic contraption. And I just loved that concept.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Yeah. He said the kids would just go home and then the next week they'd come back and they brought in a new thing. And they'd say can this be a robot sir? And if you like. Well, I think so, yeah. Why not, let's give it a go I think. It's that project based learning kind of doing kind of creativity, kind of all the things we've talked about in previous episodes sort of really coming to the fore. I think one of the things I get confused with and James, I really welcome your expertise on this is where does physical computing end and robotics start or are they both two arms of the same body or what's your take on them?

James Robinson:

Good question. I don't know it there is a definitive answer, but I think my my interpretation my view would be that robotics is kind of a subsection of a physical computing, physical computing being how we describe the broad space of using computers to control the physical world. I think robotics is is a is a space within that where where we sort of we're focus quite a lot on automation, but locomotion and movement as well so I think it's a particular kind of area within physical computing. That would be my take.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I went and I did a very teachery thing. I went and checked the dictionary for the definition of the term robotics, which actually really helped because the definition says that robotics is "the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction operation and application of robots". And I think that is really, really interesting because I think what we've talked about so far has been about design and construction. You talk about your students being quite weak on construction, but really good on operation right because they can program the robots. But I think that aspect of the application of robotics, I think, is where the Pandora's box can really open up, that it can be very inspiring and so robots can go to places that we as human beings can't. So you think about Mars right now, and the technology that has been placed on Mars to kind of give us more information about that planet, robots can go into dangerous situations as well and clear landmines and do amazing things there. Robots can help us sort our rubbish into recycling and non-recycling and so on. So I think it's the application of robotics that I think could be the thing that draws our students in and the design construction operation aspect is the bit that really links it to computing.

James Robinson:

I think it's a really good point. You've literally reminded me of my cycle ride yesterday. Our local hospital is campaigning at the moment for fundraising for a robot for surgery. And so there's lots of posters of the surgeon saying, "I can't rotate my arm through 360 degrees, A robot can" or that kind of thing. And so it's very much focused on the advantages that the robot brings to that to that space. And I think that's also what drew me to a lot of competitions is that was often like the robotics was set within a theme or a context or a challenge that really helped the students understand the application. So, yeah, I completely get that.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I think it's clear that we're both super enthusiastic about robots, robotics and education. I wasn't always but I think I'm there now. But is it really true for young learners? And even if it is, how can educators provide a great experience whilst overcoming the challenges? Thankfully, we don't have to answer these questions on our own. We're joined by two fantastic guests who are going to share their experiences. So joining us now is Nikki Cooper, an award winning former subject leader and advanced skills teacher in computing who as part of home learning, recently ran a robot week for her children. Where did this idea come from Nikki and how did you approach it?

Nikki Cooper:

Well, the idea actually came from my five year old son. He's really interested in robots. And we've seen films like Big Hero Six and Wall-E, and he's absolutely fascinated. And we were we were doing home learning. He's been learning from home since January. Until we went back to school and at February half term. He really wanted to have another themed week to go along with his home learning, but we could choose the theme. So he chose robots. So for me, I've always been enthusiastic about robots. So I kind of did a little dance for joy inside and I realised I had quite a lot of work to do because I wanted to make it really, really engaging for him and his younger brother, who is three, and make an experience where we're not drawing pictures of robots, we can actually build something really cool. So that's where the idea came from.

James Robinson:

I think that's really interesting and brave of you to to sort of just say to your to your five year old son, what do you want to learn next week? But I think, you know. And how did they respond, what kind of activities did you put together for them? You say that you wanted to kind of go beyond just drawing. But what what did they what did they make? What do they come up with over that week?

Nikki Cooper:

So the first thing we focused on was building a junk robot. And I wanted to do a bit of planning with this. So I made a little design sheet and helped them out a little bit. And they drew what they want the robot to look like. I had a basic outline so they could use it as a starting point. My three year old mostly just coloured his in bright colours, but my five year old really thought about it. He put some arms coming out the sides and it had a face on with some eyes coming out of the top and it was all based around a Costa coffee cup because that's what we had. We had those to hand, and my vision for this was to put the cup on top of a Sphero robot so that they could actually make it move around as well. And the idea was to programme it using the Sphero app, although I hadn't realised at the time that we had the old Sphero and it wasn't compatible with the educational app. So we had to sort of bodge it to work with the old app again on the tablet. So it was a little bit temperamental, but the idea was great and the boys really loved it and they love watching their little coffee cups moving around a maze that was quite exciting. And we also had the Mars rover landing in half term week as well on the Thursday. So the Thursday was all themed around the Mars rover. So we we had a scavenger hunt to learn about all the stages of landing. So I'read those back to the boys, and we put them in order and we used Scratch Junior to programme a virtual Mars rover. So we programmed it to first land on the surface of Mars. My son programmed it, I was quite impressive, most of us independently, and then I'd made a map, a maze of rocks, and he programmed the virtual robot to navigate around the maze and get to an alien at the end. So I was actually quite impressed with his programming skills using Scratch Junior to do that.

James Robinson:

And you spoke about I mean, you're sort of little dance for joy when he mentioned robotics and your own passion for robotics as a subject and an area where where does your interest in robotics come from and what's been your, your experience back in the classroom?

Nikki Cooper:

I've always really loved robots so as a child. I was desperate to build a robot. But it just wasn't as accessible back then as it is now. And in the classroom environment, I've got a secondary background, actually, and I used to run a robot club using Lego Mindstorms. As soon as that became available in the classroom I kind of jumped on that and thankfully the school bought me a few sets of Mindstorms. So we use that in a club environment and built robots an programmed them using that. And that was very successful.

James Robinson:

And do you think that robotics is something that has universal appeal or is is it I mean, because Carrie Anne and I shared at the top of the show that we've got slightly different experiences when it comes to coming to robotics. Is that is that something that is borne out by your experience with learners or is this something that has universal appeal? What are your thoughts on that?

Nikki Cooper:

I think it does have universal appeal, it's just it's advertising it in the right way. I had both boys and girls in my club. Although there were more boys than girls that were interested in the idea of building Lego robots. After that school. I worked in an all girls school and we did have Mindstorms there and the girls were interested in it. I think it depends how you market it to them because there's obviously different purposes for robots. So you've got the fighting aspect of robot wars which are more appealing to some of the boys. But when you also look at how robots can be used in the real world, like rescuing people, operations like you mentioned already and even down to performance robots, I'm thinking Disney animatronics, dancing robots, you've got a really broad spectrum that kind of covers a lot of interests. So it kind of depends on how you theme your topic to try to get the most most people interested in it.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

It's that application, again, of robotics, which is the sort of the hook, the way you bring the different groups of young people into into the space.

Nikki Cooper:

Yes. Yeah, it's and then it's again, it's very visual as well, which helps. A lot of students as well, they can visualise what they're doing, which is beneficial, especially for younger children

Carrie Anne Philbin:

What are some of the challenges in teaching with robots. And I mean I mean, you've mentioned some pretty specialised equipment You know, if your doing Lego Mindstorms and there's sort of a price tag on that. And even with some cheaper components, there's still a sort of challenge of cost. But what the other challenges in teaching it

Nikki Cooper:

Well again, you like you say it's budgets are the main issue. I've not really used robots in actual lessons, I used it in a club environment and at home because then you can have smaller groups otherwise you might say you need a class set of something and that's not within budget. One of the other issues we've had is things like connectivity even with the Lego Mindstorms, sometimes it would seem very randomly not to connect to the computer when you're trying to send your code across. And obviously then the children get impatient and they might lose interest. And if I had a large group, it would be really impractical because I'd have maybe lots of issues to deal with at the same time. So that's kind of why I stuck to a club environment. Also, the need for batteries as well could obviously be a bit of a hindrance. You think the batteries are charged or you put new batteries in and then someone's batteries run out. And the changing batteries is another problem that can occur with the Lego sets. And sometimes I find them a little bit distracting, like with the Lego Mindstorms. My students loved building and they would spend ages finicky, building their robots, and then we'd run out of time to do some of the programming that I'd like to have done a bit more. So sometimes the distraction of building can overweigh the actual programming side of things.

James Robinson:

I think you touch on a couple of really interesting points that I think I think that are indicative of all physical computing experiences that the moment we start to cross that barrier into the physical world. There's lots of logistical little challenges that you might have to solve and you're introducing another kind of debugging that you might have to do. So, oh, my robots not working. Is it because of my code, well actually no my code's fine. But the wheel's jammed, the tires fallen off, the batteries aren't charged. It's not getting the program to download. And I think all of those little things like they can be really frustrating. But I think if you can think about them and plan for them and and build that sort of debugging into your lesson, then that can be really, really helpful. And I think also that distraction point as well. You know, there's lots of activities where, you know, this is not necessarily just for physical computing, but when you give the students a scratch activity, for example, how much we've all seen when kids sort of spend 20 minutes picking their costume rather than putting some code blocks together. So I think it comes down to there is about framing and thinking really carefully. As an educator, what do I want my students to get from this experience, this lesson, this scheme of work, and making sure that you're doing things to to mitigate against those distractions, maybe your building some of the robots for them before them beforehand or your providing them with very simple base model. So to not do quite so much adaptation. But I think that's a really a really interesting point. I was going to ask about the young learners. So I think obviously you've got some experience of both secondary, but also working with younger learners, with your with your boys at home. What can educators do to make robotics more accessible to that younger age group?

Nikki Cooper:

The physical use of robots, I think is really enjoyable for children of that age group. They like to press buttons and make things happen. And I've seen a lot of good uses of tools like a bee bot. And we've got at home a kind of smaller version of that. We've got a code and go robot mouse, and that was my birthday present a few weeks ago, actually, for myself. It's been really fun doing that with my boys because it's screen free as well. So they press the buttons in a sequence and they make the robot mouse go around the track. And it's been really fun watching them explore that and seeing what they can do with it. And without any connectivity problems they can get straight involved. They can work independently on it as well without having to wait for me to get a tablet out or a computer or wires to connect it. They can just use that, and it's been really rewarding seeing them, playing with it and making the find the cheese.

James Robinson:

My birthday's coming up. Maybe I put it on my list.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I mean, I think one of the barriers for teachers in bringing even physical computing, let alone kind of delving into robotics into the classroom sometimes is kind of the idea of having a really strong subject knowledge or feeling confident enough to do it. What kind of tips would you give to teachers?

Nikki Cooper:

I would probably say start with a small group of children. So start off in that club environment with some enthusiastic children so you can learn what the hurdles are like we've mentioned before. And James made a really good point. So you can then you've got a small group of children. You can prepare a bit more beforehand, like building some sample robots. And if you're using Lego, for example, starting off with the small groups, I think is the is the key. And if things do go wrong, you've only got to debug maybe three groups projects rather than a whole class environment. And that will give you more confidence to maybe try it with larger groups and bring it into the classroom.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Yeah, I think a lot of it is just trying things out and not being afraid to sort of not have all the answers and doing it in that club environment, I think gives you the freedom as a teacher to to show that you're enthusiastic but maybe don't have all the answers. And you can go on that journey together, like Bill Harvey, who I mentioned right at the start, him telling me that he was only ever one week ahead of where the kids were in terms of the knowledge, because he was learning kind of with them. And he seemed to have created a really, really nice environment where everyone... kind of safe learning environment, where it was kind of okay not to know things. And I think that probably helped him with his confidence, too. I know. I think that would help me with my confidence in this space.

Nikki Cooper:

Yeah, I think that's a really good point. As teachers, we all kind of want to make sure we're well prepared. And well ahead of what the children know, and then that can sometimes be a barrier to trying new things because we're so worried about getting it wrong or the children to see that we don't know things. And like you say, it's okay to show that side and it's OK to show the children. Actually, I don't know. Let's see if we can find out together and go on that journey, like you said. And that's really important.

James Robinson:

I think it's interesting how frequently during our conversations over the last few weeks with the various guests Carrie Anne, that the idea of starting small in an informal space that's come up a number of times. I think it's a a really important point that we should we should underscore again in this episode, because, again, not only as we've said it, does it give you the chance to prepare your skills? But, you know, if you're giving the students the experience, you've got some expertise in the students. You've got some allies in them because they know this is a really good fun thing and they can help out in lessons. So there's just so many benefits to doing it in that way. So, yeah, I think that's a really good point to reiterate. Thank you. Our next guest, Huzaifah Zainon, a computing teacher who recently wrote an article for Hello World magazine called "More than Robots". Welcome, Huzaifah! What about robots interests you?

Huzaifah Zainon:

Well, the fact that something actually moves, doesn't that sort of make you just want to go and do something? I mean, I'm a software engineer, so everything's like behind a screen. Everything's tidy. You expect certain things to happen. It happens. You test it, you change your code. However, robot things moving on the floor, self-driving cars. I've always wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to do it, but it wasn't always possible because there wasn't the thing that you could get to do it easily, cheaply, and a Raspberry Pi came along that made it possible. Arduino was available, we tried that, that went on eBay quite quickly. Raspberry Pi didn't go on eBay because there's always a new version. And who was last year's version? Right. So that made it possible. So and then I thought, because I'm really good at programming, this is going to be so easy. It wasn't because like I said bit's are not quite connected. Well, there's light source, so the line following doesn't work very well, you think, "oh, this robot is going to nailed it". We went to Pi Wars, the controller does not connect to the robot, so there's nothing you can do when that happens. Bluetooth magic did not happen. So, yeah, so, you know, I mean, I started off very negative, didn't I? But what I what I really like is the fact that, you know, something physical. I know, James, you did a lot of physical thing at school, however robotic in the classroom, Raspberry Pi in the classroom. It takes too long to set that up in one hour. And, you know, I I didn't really want to sort of take stuff out, pack it out at the end of the day. So it became a club. The club was perfect. I mean, because when James was at Soham, he already did robotics it was always expected kind of for me to do the same. However, I didn't like Lego I can't be doing with all these Legos all over the floor.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

You're the opposite to James, James loves Lego!

Huzaifah Zainon:

Absolutely. So all those Lego bits all over the place, the robot moving Lego falling off, no! So that's I mean, eventually we we started off with Pi wars. We started something called Vex EDR because there was a company base near Ely in Witchford that sponsored us, so they bought us a kit. So we tried that. However, that didn't really take off because there are a lot of competitions all over the country, all organised by different people. So when you are sort of planning your year, you always because robots are never complete, you think, oh, we'll go to the next one. we'll go to the next one. we'll go the next one. So we spend a whole year, didn't sign up to any competition. We did have a small local competition with Ely college and Witchford college where we went to Ely college and then we pick up stuff, deposit it somewhere, that kind of thing. However, we are now in the third year of FTC competition. However, this year is a bit of a washout, as you can imagine. We had a kit an expensive kit, I can deal with that, Everything's in there you just buy bits. Everything's, kind of just plug and play rather than soldering and all that. So that's a very, very long "why robotics" did I throw everything all in one go.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, I learnt a lot from hearing you talk so well about, you know, it's very obvious that you are a teacher who is not afraid to try things. And I think that's what I've learnt, is you're very kind of open to trying different technology. You are open to trying different formats. And the question I wanted to ask you, you talked a lot there about competitions. And I wondered, you know, the role of what is clearly competitions play an important role. So for you do they help drive the development of the robots in your after school club, or is it just something that helps set the parameters? What is it about competitions that really help you with doing robotics?

Huzaifah Zainon:

Ok, well, when I we had this small competition between Witchford and Ely college, the guy at Witchford and the company that sponsored us wanted it to be a bit like a sports team for geeks go into competition, you know, from time to time with other school's that didn't quite happen. But I think the fact that you have a team, the fact that you're working towards something rather than "OK, you built it, OK, brilliant, dismantle it do something else". But having that focus means every year we can develop the robot. For example, our robot in a first year can't even grip anything. You know, the whole claw fell off. The second year it didn't fall off, we had a different design. This year we are building a different drive train. So we are going mecanum wheels so we can strafe. So, you know, it's like because there is a competition, there is a goal inside that competition. You are upgrading your skill, upgrading your kit. And the kids are developing new knowledge as well.

James Robinson:

I think that because a lot of my experience with competitions is, is that that element of teamwork and focus and a common goal that kind of helps. And I think you also mentioned, like I remember once at once when we were doing a competition and there was not really a kind of fixed deadline, and that just meant that you would procrastinate and say, well, we'll we'll do the next thing. And I think it's really helpful to have a deadline to work to. So I think that's really motivational and I think. I like your philosophy almost that you're sharing there about it's not necessarily about this season or that seasons it's about learning from the first season and applying what you've learnt to the next season and the next season and the next season and gradually kind of improving your your team's capability. So I think that that's really, really interesting. There is kind of a question wrapped up in that. What do you get from that experience of entering competitions?

Huzaifah Zainon:

I'm not sure what I get because surely as a teacher its about what the kids get. I enjoy taking the kids on trips. I suppose I'm quite old. Do I need to build robots, that kind of thing? You know, I could just stay at home and do gardening, for example. So at the end of the day, I think is about the kids the kids enjoy it. I like taking them on trips. For example, we got really excited about planning our hoody for the competition last year because because we were going to go to London, because we qualified to go to national. So we thought "hoodies!" Parents say "yep we'll pay for hoodie's" and all that. So for the kids, it sounds like the main goal is to get them to go to competition. However, because of lockdown, first lock down last year, that didn't happen. So, you know, its sad. But for me, it's just planning that trip going on that trip, seeing the kids enjoy themselves and blossom. Quite a lot of the girls who were in the team are quite shy. So it's quite nice for them to talk to people. They were quite they thought it's weird that people still speak to them. It's just about taking kids on a trip, I think.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And do you see any doing it in the informal space? Do you I mean, it would be interesting, though, what age group you do this with. But if they are sort of an age where the sort of 13, 12-13 and they are girls, do you see that passion and interest from your after school, then translating into them, taking qualifications and taking options in computer science?

Huzaifah Zainon:

Absolutely. I think we have a lot of interest from girls who started off with robotics who go on to do computer science. So we start at 11 (years old) at Soham so they have three years of key stage 3 where they study a broad range of subjects. And then for 14 and 15, they choose to do GCSE. So I've had girls who started robotics in year seven who're like "we've signed up to do computer science next year". However, it depends whether they you know, they said, "do you think we'll get in? My my head of year told me you have to be good to be good at maths to do computer science". And I'm say, is that a problem? So they said no. So why are you asking? So, you know, they were worried that maybe they wouldn't get on. But I think, you know, that interest has been really amazing. It has really translated. Now, hopefully we will we will keep having girls at robotics that will then translate to computer science and maybe even, you know, A-levels and all that.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And if you were to give your top tips to any teachers who are listening, who are thinking about perhaps running an after school club, starting with robotics, and doing it with kind of an older age group. So from age 11 kind of upwards, what would be your top advice?

Huzaifah Zainon:

Join the FTC, sign up to FTC. So First UK, yeah. So firstuk.org sign up. I think I paid something like 100 every year to not so much for anything but to sign up to the competition for the year. But in my first year I also got a thousand pound worth of kit. I spend a very small amount adding to every year. So sign up they kind of like push you along, you know, check up on you post stuff to just move you along the school year because. I don't know, I guess, you know, if you are teaching, the teaching becomes the focus and sometimes all this extra bit sometimes gets forgotten or that "oh no it's a competition next week. So it's helpful to have someone chasing you up along the way As well. So I think this year's sign up fee is only forty five pound or something like that.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And say for our kind of global audience of listeners, I think the advice is kind of find something similar, I guess sort of a Coding.

Huzaifah Zainon:

Well, no First runs all over the world. So it started off in America and the competition is all over the world. So I guess there might be some countries where they're not running the competition, but somewhere a bit more, you know, a country closer to you than, say, to have to go to America. I don't really know exactly where they are, but they do run all over the world.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

We can put a link in the show notes for anyone who who is interested, who is listening. So we decided that we would we would ask the same question of our audience and we put a we put something out on Twitter. We asked, what are your experiences teaching with robotics in your school curriculum or club? Is it something that excites you or fills me with dread? What's the benefit for learners and how do you overcome challenges? And Nic Hughes, who I mentioned right at the top of the show, actually our good friend Nic Hughes who's @duckstar on Twitter, he said "It never fills me with dread, but it does require a lot of organisation of getting all the bits and pieces together. I love robotics and physical computing because it allows children to apply things in the real world. It generates that wow factor you get when you first make Scratch the cat move, making the LED flash, that motor or servo to spin is great fun and kids love doing it.

James Robinson:

And I really like this thread that I found. And it was a whole thread from Caroline Keep who's @ka81 on Twitter. I think she expressed that she's been a passionate advocate of robotics in her in her in her sort of setting. And she has this year she's invested it's reusable kind of kit boxes that she purchased from a local supplier and found those really useful just for that kind of solving some of those logistic challenges. They're built on Micro-bit they're for key stage three. They roll them out they go they can adapt, change it, and then they move on towards Raspberry Pi builds a little bit later on. And I felt that was by the time the students get to their Raspberry Pi builds, they are so well versed in GPIO and code and components, they pretty much just build the robots themselves these days. And that means that they can concentrate on the code. So I think she felt that journey was was really, really important.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And that's kind of echoed really by Jon Witts @jonwitts on Twitter. Robots have always been a firm favourite with students in our physical computing unit. James you and I talked about physical computing and the overlap with robotics, a great experience for learners and lots of opportunities for greater understanding of programming and physical building available, too.

James Robinson:

I think it's really interesting that the very positive comments we also had some comments about sort of feeling like they want to engage in robotics, but they feel that there's maybe some barriers in the way. So @Jemimap03963154 on Twitter talked about the fact that they would love to engage in robotics, but the cost is prohibitive for their school. They know that there is support available, but can never seem to find it when they want it. And they also felt a little bit uncertain in their own sort of knowledge and experience. They work in a very deprived area and felt this would be a game changer for them. So I think I think the advice for people like that is there is support out there. If you're in the UK, you can potentially get involved in one of the trials that the National Centre for Computing, are running in the UK where we are loaning out kits with content to teachers to help them do some of this robotics and physical computing in their classroom. So I think do reach out. There is support available. Even if it is, it's hard to find. But if you have a question, you can get in touch and we can answer that question.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And that kind of goes for everything on the Hello World podcast. If you have a question for us or comment about our discussion today, then you can email via [email protected] Or you can tweet us @helloworld_edu. My thanks to Nikki and to Huzaifah for joining us today and talking so eloquently about their experiences of robotics in the classroom. You can check out Huzaifah's article coming out in Hello World issue sixteen. So, James, what did we learn today?

James Robinson:

I think I've taken away learning in informal spaces in robotics is a really useful way of engaging in that new content, a new set of products and software. How about you?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, I've learnt that hide all your Lego is probably number one. And that when you were teaching, you were very organised in your kit, which I still don't fully believe having known you for quite some time.

James Robinson:

I was organised there but not in other areas.