I recently returned to the field of education after about five years away. I suddenly found myself tasked with teaching coding and robotics to K–6 students while also working with classroom teachers to increase the presence of coding and robotics within their classrooms. Terrifying! I had no formal training in this field. I pictured screens of zeroes and ones and obscure coding languages that would take hours and hours to complete the simplest of tasks. How would I engage students? How could I convince teachers? It turns out that I was mistaken! Below are five classroom robotics tools that make things simple, even if you have little to no coding or robotics knowledge.
Best for: Grades K–2
Bee-Bots are softball-sized directional robots that look like mice. They teach students sequencing, an essential coding skill. Use them with accessories like mats or obstacles (you can make your own or purchase a premade one). The robots have directional arrows on the top that you can use to program a sequence. For example, forward four, left one, and backward two. After pressing the buttons, you press the go button, and the robot will complete the sequence.
You can use them to demonstrate knowledge of concepts like spelling, math problems, categorizing, or sequencing events while also teaching critical coding proficiencies.
Best for: Grades 3–5
These small robots are roughly golf ball size. They read lines and colors as code. Ozobots read lines drawn on paper and will follow a black line. When the line becomes solid red, green, or blue, the Ozobot will light up that color. The power of the Ozobot is the color combination codes that it uses. Students are taught the importance of patterns and symbols in coding. A blue-green-blue code on the paper, for example, will cause the Ozobot to go into turbo mode. They can also be used in the classroom to explore shapes, practice reading, and write code (through color blocks). Ozobot comes with a handy PDF guide that you can print and use with students. I laminated mine for continued use.
Best for: Grades K–4
Dot and Dash robots are globular, pyramid-shaped robots that have preloaded motions and effects that make them a bit more anthropomorphic than the other robots on this list. Students can control Dot’s and Dash’s motions, sounds, and colors through a remote control–type app or some basic block code in the free Wonder app. The Dash robot is particularly hearty for younger grade levels, and its human sounds make it extremely popular. Additional accessories include a bulldozer, Lego building attachments, a ball launcher, and a xylophone.
You can use them to introduce basic coding concepts or as part of STEAM challenges. One of the more exciting projects I saw with these robots involved a cluster of them that were programmed to do a synchronized dance to student-selected music.
Best for: Grades 4–12
The Sphero is a round robot with a little more advanced functioning than the Dash robot. Kids can control them through a remote app or a free block-coding program. The Sphero robot is about the size of a baseball and is waterproof. Because it is a little more advanced than the other robots on this list, kids can use it to explore more in-depth math concepts, including distance, speed, and degrees of rotation.
I’ve seen these robots used for some pretty amazing rescue-operation STEM challenges. Maze activities in which students use the block program to get the robot through are also quite popular.
Best for: Grades 3–12
Makey Makey is an inventor tool; it’s not a robot like the other tools on this list. I include it, however, because kids can use it with Scratch (a free block-programming app) to code some fantastic inventions. Essentially it is a circuit board that can hack the computer keyboard. The basic side can hack the arrow, tab, and enter keys. The more advanced side of the board has additional options. The kit comes with coated wires with alligator clips on the ends. Using basic electricity and circuitry concepts, students can rig up exciting things like a piano made from bananas, a cookie jar theft-detection system, or anything they can dream up and code.
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Plus, everything you need to get started with robotics and coding in the classroom.
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