BYOR not BYOB! DIY Robots

computer code imageSubscribers to the TeachNet blog may remember some of my previous posts on code; To Code or Not to Code?, Cracking the Code & it’s creatively titled sequel Cracking the Code…Again?, all reflecting an the ever burgeoning curiosity among teachers and students around computer programming and becoming code literate. Be it the introductory Hour of Code Week, putting the Scratch Cat through his paces or building a Raspberry Pi Weather Station for budding meteorologists (to mention but a few code based pursuits), anecdotal evidence would suggest that schools appetite for all things code continues to grow unabated. At this stage in our school we’ve experimented with all the above, albeit merely scratching the surface of any given one and with a new school year upon us I’ve started to wonder where to now on our coding journey?

LEGO mindstorms boxRobotics of course and 2016-17 is the year we’re going to build our own. A bold statement you may think but robotics in schools is nothing new and some Irish primary schools (as far back as the for mid-nineties) have been blazing a trail with LEGO Mindstorm kits and their inimitable programmable bricks (RCX). The Empowering Minds project which has been running since 1998 is a shining example of how computer programming and technology can be seamlessly integrated into teaching and learning across the curriculum and its longevity speaks volumes. In our own school we dabbled with LEGO too, initially with Mindstorms and Dacta Kits and then subsequently WeDo. However, whilst very beneficial for one reason or another they never gained widespread traction among staff. Whether this can be mainly attributed to the shortage of kits to share around or indeed the umpteen Lilliputian pieces that ultimately were to become vacuum fodder is unimportant at this stage but when a colleague recommended a more fool (and vacuum) proof DIY robotics kit for children I was all ears.

Mirobots, the brainchild of Ben Pirt, are build-it-yourself WiFi drawing robots designed to help teach children about technology, programming and mathematics. As you’ll see from the video below their ease of assembly/disassembly make them a boon for primary pupils to build robots from scratch before programming them wirelessly. In addition, the Mirobot is a drawing robot that holds a pen so it can be programmed to create simple to complex computer generated art

mirobotBy design the Mirobot is totally open source and platform agnostic, so you can tweak away to your heart’s content on your OS of choice, through a browser or using your favourite programming language. So (as the video clip below demonstrates) if you’re already using Scratch on a Raspberry PI there’s no need for the baby to exit stage left with the bath water but instead existing knowledge can be built upon and developed in true constructivist style.

Finally, (but most importantly for cash strapped schools) you’re not going to need to sub-let the school hall to finance the school’s foray into robotics, Mirobot’s are reasonably priced for what you get at €70 a piece or €630 for a class set of ten.

Our school is in the process of acquiring a number of Mirobots for class use this school year and I promise to keep those interested posted on progress through this blog. The caveat being (there always is one!) that we haven’t got our hands on one as yet so I have to refrain from a complete ringing endorsement. However, I suspect from what I’ve already read and seen, it’s only a matter of time before I will, watch this space…

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