VisualLearning.JPGThe schools that teach programming generally do so by means of traditional techniques, such as procedural languages, like Pascal or C, or event oriented visual languages, such as Visual Basic. Although these tools are extremely necessary in today’s world, they themselves are not sufficient to stimulate the interest of the students in ICTs. There are other attractive technologies that can be used in the classroom in an untraditional way. One of them consists of using personal robots for the resolution of problems by means of the development of algorithms written in Python and C++.

The robots which would be used have sensors and a digital camera, by means of which they allow to manipulate and program dynamic trajectories, and work on the images captured by them. On the other hand, the use of Python introduces software development concepts to students and teachers. This notes are based on the ‘Robot Education’ initiated by Microsoft Research in the city of Panama. From this experience we can adapt the manuals and resources available to the particular characteristics of our school here in NZ.

Robots simplify programming learning and program debugging.

The whole purpose of this project is to make Computer Science teaching more fun and effective. The use of robots as a didactic tool to initiate students in programming was an innovating and motivating idea. Each student was connected with a robot through a Bluetooth to a PC. The student could command the robots from their PC or Notebook, by writing instructions that were immediately interpreted by them without the need to learn the traditional cycle of translation and compilation. From an educational perspective, the most important characteristic of these robots is that the students could learn the basic concepts of programming in an intuitive and fun way, exploring instructions and language sentences to handle them, move them, give them orders and reproduce sounds as well as manipulate pictures. This encouraged them to create programs with more complex algorithms and to be able to experiment the results in an interactive way and through direct observation on the robot.

Using robots, artistic (painting/ dancing), social (theatre play and ballet) and game activities can be organized, which will enable the students to work with their creativity in a collaborative way in the development of programs. They make visible and tangible those abstract aspects which are inherent to Computer Science, where instruction execution is inside the computer´s memory, behind the computer screen.

The necessary technical requirements

robot.jpgThe computer environment used for the robots is called Myro, which stands for My Robotics. Myro is a shared source project aimed at making it easy for beginners to learn about computer science by programming robots. This is a project of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education, a joint initiative between the Georgia Institute of Technology, Bryn Mawr College, and Microsoft Research. It is a library of functions written in Python for robot movement, sensor readings, multimedia and image processing, automatic web publishing, communication via instant messaging, music and tone generation, and text-to-speech translation.
Myro is a cross-platform tool that works on Macintosh, Linux, and Windows operating systems. Python is a high level scripting language which belongs to Free Software that itself exhibits many of their pedagogical goals. The robots have the advantage of not being very expensive, the pack with the bibliography costs $150,- comparable to a text book. They are also portable, small enough to carry in a backpack, wireless, controlled from computer, customable, interactive and easy to program. The bibliography which comes with the robot is very complete and appropriate to be applied in the 1st year of the career. Among it, it includes Myro reference materials, extensive materials for instructors, practical activities and chapter web-based textbook called Computer Science 1—An Introduction with Robots.
Learning Computing with Robots