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Good Robot Projects For K-5?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the must-deliver-candy-to-adults dept.

Education 136

bugs2squash writes "Some of the parents of kids at my son's elementary school would like to set up a robotics club for the children. I see that Lego has a new line of robotics bricks called wedo (PDF) and that seems to be the path of least resistance to doing something. But I wanted to ask: What experience do all y'all have of running a robotics club for this age group (5 thru 10 years old) and what factors made it a success (or failure)? Did you use a commercial kit of parts or brew something from scratch? What kind of projects work well with kids this age? I was thinking maybe making robot flowers (yes, I know they'd all rather build robotic sharks with lasers)." (Here's another page about Wedo.)

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did you just see that robot? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070105)

it had a shark strapped on it's back. fucking badass.

Re:did you just see that robot? (1)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070721)

Add a laser to that shark and now you got me interested...

Re:did you just see that robot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27073605)

Those kids would just love little robotic bunnies. So cute and they come in lots of colors... []

Sharks with Lasers? Feh (0, Offtopic)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070139)

10 year old kids weren't even born when that movie was released.

Now, Transformers on the other hand has had a lot of influence.

Actually Flowers are Good Too (1)

kandela (835710) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071899)

It's good to have a variety of different robotics projects. Hopefully then you can interest all the kids, not just those who would traditionally be drawn to robotics. As a bonus, those who are already interested in robotics might develop an interest in botany as well.

These days robots have a wide variety of applications from industry to art and lots in between. I have actually seen robotic origami flowers in an art exhibition, they were pretty cool, I spent 30 minutes at that exhibit.

Maybe I'm a little biased, I consider myself well rounded in my nerdishness, but I always think cross-pollination is good (no pun intended).

Re:Sharks with Lasers? Feh (2, Funny)

yo303 (558777) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074369)

10 year old kids weren't even born when that movie was released. Now, Transformers on the other hand has had a lot of influence.

Meh. Those kids weren't even remotely planned when the original Transformer cartoons came out. Oh, does that make me sound old?

Too young (4, Insightful)

captaindomon (870655) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070155)

I think that age group is too young to build robots on any informative level. I'm sorry, but they just won't "get it". Instead, why don't you buy some working robotic toys and let the kids program them to repeat an action, maybe, or just play with them? Maybe stage a battle with robotic dinosaurs or something? That would be way better for a five year old than actually building a working system.

Re:Too young (5, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070217)

I don't think you quite understand the mind of some young boys. R3.0 has been trying to build Transformers and other devices out of sticks and soda cans, and he's been doing that since he was 4 or 5.

In some kids, the desire to control is far less insistent than the drive to create. (And dismantle/destroy, but that's a topic for another post.

Re:Too young (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27071257)

Combine them. Have the kids build turtle kits and program them to draw. They're easy to build (two drive motors and one pen motor), easy to program (left speed, right speed, pen up or down), and produce immediate results that the kids can see.

In all seriousness, this was one of my first exposures to robotics and programming. It's still a fantastic start.

correction needed (4, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072623)

"I don't think you quite understand the mind of some young boys. "

"I don't think you quite understand the mind of some young children. "

As a parent of a son and daughter, I see how that simple usage can make a young girl think girls don't do that sort of thing.
Young girls want an try to identify with being a girl, and as such avoid things labels for boys.(visa versa as well)

I encourage my daughter(and my son) in mathematics, science, engineering, chemistry(which she loves) etc and ahve seen her interest drop off as soon as some jack ass* adult says it's for 'boys'.

Clearly this doesn't involved grammar~

Fortunatly I talk with her often about it, and think she is starting to get it.

I don't want to seem a pedantic ass, but It si very personal. And yes, I will correct an adult I'm talking to if any kids are nearby.

*not that you are a jack ass, just that some of the people saying this are in a position of 'authority'.

Re:correction needed (2, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073011)

I can understand your frustration. I have a 13 year old daughter who is excellent at math and science, but gets those same signals. I try to support her as best I can (she got an A on her science fair project with my help).

I was more referring to the teaching methods the GPP suggested. While I agree that both boys and girls can excel at math and sciences, the generally learn differently. I can't imagine the "start with the basics" program would work with my son, though it might have worked with my daughter.. Generally, boys and girls learn differently, and not acknowledging that hurts them both.

Re:Too young (3, Insightful)

VeNoM0619 (1058216) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070259)

I think that age group is too young to build robots on any informative level. I'm sorry, but they just won't "get it".

Just because the No Child Left Behind Act has you underestimating education, doesn't mean anyone is too young to indulge in technology.

Hell, 5-10? I'm sure they already have a decent applications/software background (surfing the web, running programs/games on the computer). Seeing how the linked PDF looked interesting, yet elegantly simple enough for a child (ok, so advertising may not speak truth), I would say it's worth a chance to teach. What's the worst that can happen if it goes over their heads? 1 student learns while 25 don't?

Re:Too young (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27071363)

It depends... Children go through distinct mental phases where their capacity to analyze things is very different from other stages. Most of these children will still be in the pre-operational stage where they can only follow short chains of cause-effect. The older ones (changes at ~7) will be in the concrete operation stage where they can follow cause-effect chains but can't understand abstract things like `a pointer to a function that returns an array of...' so you should avoid certain things with them.

Personally, I'd give premade robots with a simple programing language (if statements, for loops and maybe functions).

Please note that some children go through these stages faster than other. This [] page seems to cover the topic decently.

Re:Too young (3, Insightful)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074759)

>but can't understand abstract things like `a pointer to a function that returns an array of...'

Most of the engineers I work with don't understand that either.

I'll bet (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070443)

... when you were a kid you had a lot of friends.

My favourite toys when I was age 5-10 were capsela, construx, and Jr. Radio kits. I only wish shows like Battlebots were around to further pique my interest.

Anything you can do to get your kid into higher-level thinking and problem solving (like elementary computer programming and robotics) will give them a huge leg-up in the education system. Any way you can make it fun for them will help them understand more.

Re:I'll bet (2, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070531)

My favourite toys when I was age 5-10 were capsela, construx, and Jr. Radio kits

definitely capsela for them. Motor, switch, gears, easy to put together. I made a "robot" for a ~5th grade "build a robot" project our class had, and the class went wild over it. Mine was definitely the only one with moving parts. The rest were cutout painted cereal boxes etc.

Labview plug (2, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070715)

Don't forget that Lego and your kid's creativity aren't the only winners here. According to the last, parenthetical link in the summary it's powered by LabView, which is something every technical person will see again and again in their lifetime.

Its modular, graphical interface [] is a perfect compliment for Lego-style robot building(and is also invaluable for test and measurement automation).

Re:Labview plug (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070985)

oh don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE lego, but this is a question for robotics. Even back then I had a cothesbasket full of legos and I went with capsela for the moving parts and gears that you don't have with lego.

Re:Too young (2, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070449)

I can't find the story now. But there's a story about the old Canadian wilderness. A guy took his 12 year old son over the mountains to setup a new homestead. They built a temporary house and before the winter the father left the son and returned back to the rest of the family.

The son was there in the spring when the dad brought the rest of the family. Granted 5th grade is only 10-11, but a 12 year old than managed to hunt, clean, and survive in the Canadian wilderness a hundred years ago.

Stop treating kids like precious little snow flakes. Yes they need some guidance but they're a hell of a lot more capable than people give them credit for. I was building Capsela since I could walk and my parents swear that's why I became an engineer. A very basic programming language would have rocked.

When I was in 5th grade our school had a Commodore 64 and an Mac LCII. I would flip through the manual and set different color schemes on the Commodore (First time I was accused of "Hacking" by a teacher too....) and I figured out quite a bit on the LCII. (Including the plain text file that it stored MathBlaster scores in ;) ).

Re:Too young (3, Informative)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071509)

Sign of the Beaver.

My 8 year old is reading it right now. He loves it.

Re:Too young (3, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070513)

Lego Mindstorms could work. At least then the kids get to build something, including placing of motors and sensors, then program them using a simple flow chart style language. There's even an almost but not quite C language that they also support for the over achievers (or yourself to do demo's with).

If nothing else just let the Kindergartners and 1st graders build with the Lego's, add in the motors (locked full speed in one direction) for the 2st and 3nd graders, the flowchart programming for the 4th graders, and the sensors for the 5th graders. It's possible to get into some relatively advanced behavior such as line following, maze solving, and light searching with the default sensors and flowchart languange that is provided with the educational kits.

Re:Too young (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070577)

At that age, all I wanted to do was go outside and play.

For what it's worth, I agree with you. Of course, in my day GI Joe's were a foot tall and my Tonka truck was made out of metal.

Re:Too young (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071075)

Your wrong.
I coach FLL ( and see 5 year olds get it.
Once taught basic programming techniques and how to use the IDE(an hour to do both) they're off and going with only a little guidance. Usually when they get stuck no a part I''ll help the break the problem down.
"Hmm you need it to wait? maybe there is a wait od sleep instruction?"
Then they look and find it. after a couple of those they start looking to see if they can find an answer before getting stuck.

Kids are fucking smart...really really smart. They are way under utilized in our society.
You will never be smarter then when you are a kids..more knowledgeable, but never smarter.

"Instead, why don't you buy some working robotic toys and let the kids program them to repeat an action, maybe, or just play with them?"

A) they get bored with that in about 90 seconds.
B) Just becasue kids build robots doesn't mean they don't also play with toys.

Re:Too young (2, Funny)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071489)

Kids are fucking smart...really really smart. They are way under utilized in our society.

I know man, ever since those child labor laws were passed in 1938, business has just been terrible!

Re:Too young (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072547)


I, of course, didn't mean as labor.

Re:Too young (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27073091)

If there's one thing that makes me smile every time I read it, it's someone starting a rebuttal with "Your wrong".

Re:Too young (1)

Interested Guy (18007) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071379)

I have been watching my 5 year old play with MIT's "Scratch", and I would disagree.

He doesn't understand everything, but he knows that he can modify certain instructions and get different results.

It takes some time for him to get the whole cause and effect, but he starts to get it over time. And he has a lot of fun tinkering.

Re:Too young (1)

aphyr (1130531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073287)

I started programming modula-2 in K-5, and had there been a way to combine that with my lego collection, I would have been all over it! I think it's a safe bet that a decent-sized elementary school will have a few kids who can enjoy building and programming their own robots. :)

Re:Too young (3, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073689)

I think that age group is too young to build robots on any informative level. I'm sorry, but they just won't "get it".

You'd be surprised. When my son was in Cub Scouts (grades 2-5) we had them do this kind of stuff all the time.

Here's a great project that's well within the age range of these kids: Bristlebots! [] Provide them with all the technical parts: motors, double sided tape, batteries, wires, solder, tools, and safety equipment, everything except for the toothbrush. Give them at least a week's notice to bring in a toothbrush, (provide printed flyers explaining the project) and they'll go home and beg mom or dad to help them find them an old toothbrush they can destroy. Of course you'll need some extras on hand so nobody is left out. But make sure they have plenty of notice. The anticipation is a huge part of the experience.

The flyers serve several purposes: they build excitement, they inform the parents about days and activities, they ask parents to help scrounge up a toothbrush, they can serve as the "permission slip" to use the tools under supervision, and depending on financial circumstances, you can ask parents to pay the cost of the parts. You need to be clear that parts will be provided for all the kids regardless of donations, so as not to leave anyone out. But really, the first hit on the Goog just found pager motors for $1.29, so parts costs should be dirt cheap. Even in a tough situation with a lot of underprivileged kids, you can probably find a couple people willing to donate $20 or so.

On build day, use the older kids to perform the tougher tasks. The 3rd and 4th graders are more than capable of sawing off the toothbrush handles with a hacksaw (provide a vise.) If you have a 5th grader in the group, they might even be capable of soldering, but if not you could still use one as a "third hand" to apply the solder. (Or you can pre-solder the wires yourself before Robot Day.) Direct supervision and proper safety equipment is required, of course, but kids LOVE to use "dangerous" tools. It's a great opportunity to educate them on safety, and there's very little chance of serious injury.

If you print up assembly directions, be sure you test them yourself before build day. Have a pre-made bristlebot to show the kids what they're making.

For the youngest kids, if you can find a way to decorate them (provide them with stickers or whatever) then they get to participate too. There's a tremendous value in getting the kids to do the assembly. It might be slightly beyond the 5-6 year olds (it's definitely kid dependent,) but even the 7-year olds are likely to be able to accomplish it. And the younger kids may just have fun playing with them, but it's still participation.

Be sure to follow up the build event with some kind of organized contest where the kids can enter their robots. It's best to run it the same day so that kids don't have a chance to lose or break their robots or wear out their batteries.

If you operate the bristlebots on a horizontal dry-erase board as the article pictures, you could try having them erase marker lines, or race from one end to the other, or out of a circle, or follow a simple drawn track. Pre-print some award certificates for things like "Robot with the Cleanest Teeth" and a handful of other cheesy awards, and hand them out for things like "the kid who picked the highest number."

Trust me -- if you can organize this little bit, the kids will love it and the parents will beg you to do it again next year.

Re:Too young (1)

jon_adair (142541) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074095)

I did robots for elementary age kids for 3 summers now. Now, I only have them for one week of 2 hours a day, so an ongoing thing run as an after school program might work better, but based on my experience, I think it would be rather painful.

Right up front you need to understand that there's a big difference between working with your kid or your kid and their 2-3 friends and working with a room full of kids that don't really know you. Kids no longer have built-in respect for adults. They'll run right over you and treat you like a substitute teacher. It takes a lot of work to get and maintain control of a group of elementary age kids, especially around exciting stuff like robots. Parents being there is a mixed bag of stuff. Some are great and a few will make you nuts.

I've tried Lego Mindstorms and even just taking the top 2-3 kids and setting them up with a (original not NXT) Mindstorms kit didn't work. They didn't have the patience to follow build instructions for more than 15 minutes. They cobbled together some "stick a wheel on a motor" platforms and crashed them into each other. That's about as far as I could get them in 2 days so I've never gone back to Mindstorms in that group. I would never try Mindstorms with the large group of all the kids in our camp, unless we planned on the kits being "expendable". Too many pieces go missing.

I've tried Vex and that's worked somewhat well. I have seveal of the original Vex kits and we've only used them in radio-control mode. We've done mostly robo "sports" like soccer, obstacle courses, and "just smash into each other". Each kit doesn't come with enough to build much of an arm, but you can make a single servo flipper / weapon with something like a cardboard scoop. Or put a kill button on top and let them smack each other's kill button. I haven't had elementary kids building anything with Vex parts, but they did do cardboard work like scoops and "armor". The Vex kits held up well. One even got squashed hard by a table and I was able to hammer all the bent metal back mostly to the original shape.

There is a newer, significantly cheaper Vex kit that's mostly plastic and comes with a gripper arm and a wireless camera. If I were to go shopping now, that's what I'd try.

I've also tried teaching anything resembling programming, algorithms, etc. and have made no progress. I tried some activities from "Computer Science Unplugged", an ebook sold online. It's got hands-on activities for kids like having them bubble sort themselves. It looks neat, but in practice I had a real control problem when I tried it. It might work better in a more controlled, longer-term setting, like a classroom.

We also tried some scratch-built bots using cheap motors and eventually salvaged toys, but those never worked that well. If you don't have a geared-down motor there isn't much you can do. You can set up motors to just spin the shafts as the wheels so that slows them down, but you still basically have a dumb, fast bug that just runs. Adding logic and sensors to it is possible, but pretty far beyond anything I've been able to teach to kids that age.

We did watch the "Great Robot Race" DARPA challenge video from Nova. Two years in a row it kept the kids fairly captivated if I split it into 15 minute segments and we discussed it in between.

For year two, one of the activities we did was "Robot Arena 2", a PC game version BattleBots. You can do construction, including picking different weapons, wheels, motors, etc. It was a rough start, but once we had a few kids into it, it was a real winner. It runs on pretty old PCs and is only $20 if you can find it. Unfortunately we could never get network play working reliably.

Now, through all of this, I've had my own elementary-age daughter working on both Mindstorms and Vex. She's been perfectly capable of building stuff with Vex, following the Mindstorms builds, and understanding the algorithms for the built-in Mindstorms programs. I also know elementary age kids do First Lego League. So I know elementary-age kids can do it, but I haven't been able to make it work in the setting I've had.

You also need to manage the kids' (and especially their parents') expectations. The first year I did this, parents thought their kid was going to take home a robot. They paid $20 for the week and 100% of that went to tshirts, pizza, etc. and definitely not robots or batteries. The old Mindstorms cost $150 used. The Vex kits at the time cost $150 on a half-off sale. I had to explain the math to several sets of parents. I shopped hard for a "take home" robot kit for the next year and the best I could do for something reasonable that could be built by the kids with some help and would still do something interesting was $20-30.

But don't let me scare you off. Even though I think we've run a pretty crappy robot camp, the kids mostly loved it. I personally spent over $1000 on Mindstorms and Vex just to do the camp and another volunteer spent at least a few hundred dollars too. Despite all our frustrations, we haven't really regretted doing it. I'd love to do a robotics class at our local homeschool co-op or do some sort of after-school program for kids that are really into it, but can't make the schedule work.

Range of students. (5, Insightful)

Albio (854216) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070191)

5 year olds and 10 year olds can be quite different. It would not be a good idea to treat all of these kids as the same.

Re:Range of students. (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070629)

I love that this got modded "informative". No offense intended to Albio intended, but seriously...

Re:Range of students. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27072323)

Quick! Mods! Seize the moment to overload Em Emalb with irony by modding his comment informative.

Make a robotic rabbit... (1)

ExploHD (888637) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070205)

with big, nasty, pointy teeth!

Re:Make a robotic rabbit... (1)

Facetious (710885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071325)

What's it going to do? Nibble me bum?

Motarized Constructs. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070213)

I remember being that age and working with motorized constructs.
They were great. Different belts on different size flywheels creating different speeds. Connecting a bar to a hinge and part of the fly wheel allows you to make simple robots with arms that go up and down.

Lego is probably the way to go. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070231)

Having done some robotics(FIRST) in highschool, I'd be leery of trying to make it work with "real" parts. We had access to a university machine shop and something resembling an actual budget, and fabricating/buying/waiting for/modifying parts consumed an inordinate amount of time and effort. All of those things are useful learning experiences, particularly for people who want to go into engineering; but if you have limited time, money, or children's attention span, you'll burn more time on logistics then you will on learning.

Compared to any source of machine parts that doesn't involve very high levels of ingenuity and scrounging Lego is pretty cheap, and you can do pretty sophisticated stuff with it.

Re:Lego is probably the way to go. (1)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070307)

Yes you can. I saw a pretty impressive little Lego based machine on YouTube that sorted gumballs by color. I think that's something kids would have fun with. Candy and Robots - can't beat that!

FIRST JLL (4, Informative)

spinkham (56603) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070331)

FIRST junior Lego league is designed for this age group, and though I haven't been involved at that age level, I know the middle school and high school programs are good, and the elementary school version looks age appropriate.

The FIRST organization is definitely an outstanding model of teaching kids what is is that programmers and engineers do in a way that is exciting and relevant to each age group. I highly recommend checking them out. []

Re:FIRST JLL (2, Insightful)

dubious elise (1200247) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070643)

Great call on FIRST - I was involved in their high school program for three years and I started a regular FLL program at my K-8 grade school. We had to start including younger students (3rd and 4th grade) than our 5th and 6th graders in the regular program because they were solving the proposed problems too quickly and efficiently. Even if you do not know what to do with the kits or how to write a line of code, FIRST and LEGO provide excellent resources, the latter of which are not limited to the annual games that FIRST develops.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070705)

Good luck with FIRST, I tried to get my 12yr old in, but after numerous phone calls and emails to FIRST personnel I got nowhere and gave up. So I just bought the mindstorm kit myself and a few books and we're building stuff together.


PitaBred (632671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071165)

I'll bet your kid likes that better than working with the group anyway ;)


kyuubi42 (1424889) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071639)

that would be a problem with you local team. not the organization.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27072953)

All it takes is a couple friends, a couple hundred dollars, and that's it.. you register online..

That's how my dad got me into FLL oh so many years ago.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27071391)

I would agree, but the judges at a lot of the events clearly have no idea of what engineering involves. A few years ago, I saw an elegant device designed to do no more than what was required. It had to be modified each round to fit the different starting position, but it gave the operator very fine control after the initial modification.

The judges said that it involved no engineering and awarded it third place despite the fact that the team running it managed to score the highest. For that matter, the winner had several parts break during the competition. The team with the more elegant device had some of their initial parts spare, which they used to help the other team repair their device. The more elegant device never broke.


Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27071523)

I have to agree. I did a judging recently of middle and high school competition and one of the things we graded was teamwork. Several of the teams (these are 6 - 8th graders) "mentored" a junior team.

It's worth a look

Robots? (2)

KuNgFo0 (519426) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070337)

Before tackling something as complex as a "robots" how about basic things like teaching them about electricity and magnetism. Let them build electric motors, circuits that light up LEDs, and don't forget mechanical concepts like gears, pulleys and levers. Think fundamental physics-type experiments.

Re:Robots? (4, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070613)

You have it backwards - kids learn about "electric motors, circuits that light up LEDs, gears, pulleys and levers" by building things that use them. Then, While they are building something cool, you teach them the principles behind it.

Robotix (3, Informative)

AnotherAnonymousUser (972204) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070343)

I don't know if they even make them any more, but I always had Robotix when I was a kid - they use a hex shaped connector and were a lot bigger and sturdier than Legos, but you could use them to build robots literally as tall as you were. The sets came with motors that connected to a battery pack and to a control panel that you could use from several feet away. I always had a lot of fun building things from the ground up using the raw materials and integrating the motors into the structures to give mobility to the construct, or to enable it to perform some kind of task. Like Legos, the sets come with guide books, but I always found that, even at that age, I could come up with new and better ways to build the thing they had pictured than the instructions gave. Link to the first site that demos it: []

Re:Robotix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27073795)

Man, Robotix. I wounded myself more than a few times trying to get those darned pieces apart.

Perp-a-tron (2, Funny)

Tx (96709) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070361)

Whenever I think about kids and robots I can't help but think about Perp-a-tron [] . Not sure if a child molesting robot is a suitable project for the kids, but it'll put them ahead of the game.

First Lego League (2, Informative)

phunster (701222) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070369)

There is a First Lego League with particapation starting at 6 years old I think this might fit your bill. I've been hearing great things about it.

The URL is: []

Good Luck

I started in grade 2 with lego (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070373)

I first learned to program with Lego Logo for the Apple IIe when I was in 2nd grade, and the experience was priceless. I highly recommend a lego solution because it makes the hardware easy.

Some great examples of projects are robot cars that follow a line on the ground (use an optical sensor to trace it), item counting conveyor belt, ping-pong ball pitching machine, and block sorting machine (an evolution of the conveyor belt with counter, it diverts blocks to different bins based on length.

The new lego kits have GUI programming interfaces, but I was able to do everything in logo as a kid, so don't assume you have to dumb things down as much as you might expect.

Homebrew (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070383)

When I was in that age range, schools were building eggmobiles (machines that can carry raw eggs over an obstacle course at high speed) and competing in the Granada Power Game (the contest I entered involved dropping a coin exactly half-way along a track, again at high speed).

Children not much older were competing quite successfully at contests such as the Micromouse tournament.

This is not to say that kids these days would be satisfied with such problems today, but this would seem a logical starting point as we know that it is possible for extremely young kids to really understand the mechanics and to really construct such devices with minimal outside help.

The question is, how to upgrade these sorts of problems to handle the expectations modern kids place on themselves, and the much more advanced technology required to keep them interested.

One possible starting point is to use K'Nex or Lego Mindstorms to produce a skeletal robot which the kids can then add to. The problem with this is that then the real logic part, the part they need to really solve, is the part that is solved for them.

Another option is to use the basic concept of the original problems, using the computer to provide steering rather than motive power. This keeps the mechanics simple enough for the kids, but allows for some very sophisticated logic behind the steering.

(For example, you could have a simple eggmobile that must avoid barriers with lights on top, using light-sensitive diodes and a simple programmable board for the control system.)

Re:Homebrew (1)

archshade (1276436) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070735)

How much time do you have. How much money do you have. What kind of resources do you already.

If you have time and have the stuff to do it I'd go homebrew and make some control boards (based around PICs) and may be some simple chassis (possible with two motors and a dolly wheel) and a board to control this (two H-bridge motor drivers and a couple of micro switches). Put some headers in so you can connect up the boards. That way if you find one or two students who get it you can explain the in more detail about whats going on. For others you could help set up simple systems.

If you don't have the set up time or resources to do this the Lego looks good. I like the idea of being able to control whats going on.

Re:Homebrew (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070975)

"The problem with this is that then the real logic part, the part they need to really solve, is the part that is solved for them."

What do you mean?
the MindStorm competition stuff still requires logic programming to do anything. And the competition usually involves many tasks that require different programs to complete.

Souped up Real Dolls (1)

tacarat (696339) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070385)

Then they can share funding with the sex ed classes.

Seriously?! (-1, Troll)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070409)

"all y'all" ?!
It makes me want to cry thinking that some people not only talk, but type like this.

Re:Seriously?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070625)

You're either a very intolerant person or you're a hypocrite, which is it? Are you likewise offended by other forms of vernacular, such as 'sho nuff', 'oy veigh', 'n00b', etc? Either way, you're definitely a troll in my book.

Re:Seriously?! (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070665)

Lighten up, Francis - using spelling and sentence structure to reflect the way a certain person speaks is an old, old literary technique. As for speaking like that, it's called a dialect, and if you believe you speak without using a dialect you are probably wrong.

Re:Seriously?! (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070997)

Most languages have a second person plural pronoun. For example, "tu" and "vosotros" in spanish. English lacks this, for no good reason, and this limits it's expressive power. Since we don't have a second person plural pronoun, we invented one. If you don't like it, tough.

Re:Seriously?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27071295)

Yes we did, and it's 'you'. 'You all' I can handle, but unless I decide to take a trip to redneck America I don't want to hear 'y'all' ever again.

Re:Seriously?! (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072539)

"You" is ambiguous. WHen you address a group of people as "you", each person has to decide whether the speaker meant "me" or "us". It's usually clear from context, but it's still awkward. "You all" is good, but "y'all" is easier to say. Do you also have a problem with "can't" and "they're"?

Check out PicoCricket (1)

MojoRilla (591502) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070453)

I would suggest checking out PicoCricket [] . It is more geared towards artistic expression rather than building robots, but has light sensors, sound sensors, touch sensors, displays, etc.

MacGyver the hell out of it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070465)

Just give them a bunch of old CD-ROM drives, some AA batteries, and the MacGyver DVD box set.

Botball (1)

teachinggeek (771610) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070537)

You might want to look up botball. It will probably be more appropriate for your fifth graders. It gives them a good challenge, and most students were somewhat successful. We do robots that follow lines using a light sensor and sumo robots, but this is in the high school level, rather than K-5. You might try making the basic frame for the robot out of legos and letting them modify it rather than designing the entire robot.

parallax (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070683)

Parallax makes a couple simple little kits for about that age range. They have wheels and can roll around with IR sensors, leds, and buttons. That would probably give them a good feel for how all the different elements connect and interact with each other.

For quality parts get Fischer Technik. (2, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070707)

Fischer Technik has by far the highest quality parts for constructing this kind of thing... but at a cost. They are not cheap. On the other hand, they are used by children to make models and by Universities to demonstrate & prototype industrial robots. It all depends on where you want to start and how much you want to spend.

WeDo probably only appropriate at young end (3, Informative)

dbc (135354) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070747)

We (my 9 YO daughter and I) have NXT. I've see WeDo, it is probably more appropriate at the lower age ranges, since it is more limited. I know people that teach robotics using lego, although I haven't done it myself.

First, philosophically, you have to decide if you want to go the "competition" (ie FIRST, Botball, etc) route, or more of an "educational constructionist" route. Personally, I think competitions set up a host of perverse incentives that work against true learning. Far better to set up "challenges", and let each kid (or team) see how far they can get. The learning is in the trying, not the winning.

How much money do you have? Lego works well with teams of two. Can you afford one kit per two kids? Also you need to handle the logistics of how to store/secure half-built robots between sessions. And you will also need to get good at inventorying Lego. Exotic Lego parts have a way of disappearing... you might find yourself on BrickLink more than you want to be.

NXT-G is not easy for kids to use, despite anything Lego tells you. Expect to spend some time on that.

So, having said all those negative sounding things, I don't really know of a better alternative than NXT for your sitation.... and my daughter and I *do* have a heaping pile of non-Lego robots of various kinds.

Re:WeDo probably only appropriate at young end (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070937)

I disagree.
I ahve coachd LEGO teams with 10 members on the team.
Any person with 2 braincells can organize the team into different tasks.

You should look into it. There are many tasks in the competition, so programming can be broken up be task, and brainstorming a robot design works well in a large teams.
Presentation involves all the kids, as well as the other parts that are judged.

The kids learned a lot.
It's cool to watch them get a couple of programing concepts into their head and watch them create a program to accomplish a specific task.
Sponsors are easier to get becasue everyone has heard of LEGO.
The path from LEGO bots to larger more powerful Bots is a very good one.

Re:WeDo probably only appropriate at young end (1)

dbc (135354) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074715)

OK, I'm confused. What part of my comment are you disagreeing with? That WeDo is only appropriate at the low end of the age range? That Lego is a resonable choice to teach kids robotics, but that there are issues? Or that robotics competitions set up perverse incentives that get in the way of healthy learning?

Lego NXT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070757)

I teach a Lego robotics class every Wednesday to 5th and 6th graders and an exceptional 2nd grader.

The Lego NXT educational kits are THE way to go if you are serious about this.

As a previous poster suggested... start them out with simple mechanical exercises using the kits before you give them motors and the brick... programing should be a reward for completing the fundamentals. The system also has good 3rd party support for extra types of sensors and other I/O solutions.

You will have a hard time finding another system that will combine the versatility of lego and the massive user base and tons of online suggestions for novel projects.

Save the FIRST robotics stuff for the really dedicated kids... ones who can secure a sponsor...($$$)

Coincedentally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070835)

I'm working on something similar to this for my (undergrad) senior design project. My professor used a grant to make a bunch of custom-built robots using an ARM7 chip and some off-the-shelf parts, along with a simple C API for controlling the robots. He taught an intro CS course [] using these robots. Telling a robot to move around a room generally beats writing guess-the-number games in terms of student interest and interactivity.

Last year, a few student projects were started to make the process of simulating and debugging these robots easier for students. Our goal this year is to integrate them into Code::Blocks. One of the projects uses an icon-based UI similar in some respects to the Lego Mindstorms UI, and is targeted to elementary students; it generates C code that can run on the robots directly from icon diagrams that students create. We're updating that to allow importing preexisting C code into a diagram.

Ideally we'll be able to step through robot code, watch the robot move around on a , and track the program's execution in terms of the icon diagrams. []

I'm a LEGO robotics coach. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27070841)

The LEGO smart path is really the way to go.
Global competitions, sponsors can be easy to get, And build robots out of LEGO pieces can be easy and versatile. Latter on in high school they move up into bigger bots. I have only coached 4-5th graders. Next year my daughter will do it for the 4th grade class and my son will be on the 6th grade class.
Assuming the both show the same enthusiasm.! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27070999)

This post is lame.

... and just for the record: by "some parents" do you actual just mean "you"?

For a gentle intro try "blinkybugs" (2, Interesting)

Ugarte (42783) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071061)

This is a really simple project, which can be found on Instructables, but one can also buy kits...

While it's a stretch to call them robots, they do interact in a way, and can help kids understand the basics of electricity and sensors. they antennae form a really simple spring switch, which triggers the blinking of their eyes (LEDs), and the body is a coin cell battery. I made some of these at a workshop at the Maker Faire a while ago.

Sandlot (1)

TheCastro (1329551) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071275)

I for one; have seen the movie Sandlot, and like other my age used tinker toys and legos to try and do the same kind of stuff. Kids in the ages of 5-10 should be able to make some sort of "object" that performs a "function." But it might not be a robot. Giving them specific goals will help, like build a machine that can throw a ball, kids that age like structure.

Check out Lynxmotion (1)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071405)

I'm not affiliated with these guys or anything, I've just used some of their stuff before. I build a real walking hexapod when i was in 9th grade, which is pretty far beyond 5th grade, but they may have something simpler, i dunno.

Actually, you may wanna look at the BOE bot, avaliable probably from parallax, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, i just love Lynxmotion. Might be for an older crowd, but they are good.

Book recommendation... (1)

DreamCoder (679179) | more than 5 years ago | (#27071665)

When my son was in 3rd grade, I bought the book: "Robot Building for Beginners", by David Cook. It was still too advanced for him to tackle alone, but we made a point of getting together for a couple hours each weekend and worked through the line-following robot project that the book describes. It took about two months to complete at that rate, but it was a blast and we both got alot out of it. He got to learn how to breadboard a circuit, cut/drill metal, control an electric motor, fry LEDs ;-), and assemble the final bot. And the circuitry itself was so simple that at the end he *really* understood how it worked. I really recommend this approach, if you've got the time and patience to work with your kid on it.

Drawbots (2, Interesting)

jomegat (706411) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072005)

Makezine [] ran an article last week on an interesting robot that looks appropriate for that age group.

For ages 7-11, keep things VERY simple (1)

mcpublic (694983) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072037)

In grad school I studied and developed methods to make programming accessible to young children. At the time, the general consensus in the field was that before the ages of 11-14, children don't typically have the cognitive ability to write programs, even simple ones. Even though I am a professional programmer now, when I was introduced to BASIC at age 9, I definitely didn't "get it." When I got to 7th grade I did.

Radia Perlman did some groundbreaking work in the 1970's to develop technology in the hope that 6-years-old could learn programming skills. Years later, Ken Kahn developed a game/programming environment called ToonTalk. From my personal experience and research, I don't think you can expect kids younger than 9 to build and program robots, but they can start playing with the physical and conceptual "building blocks."

I see from LEGO's literature that WeDo is aimed at children 7-11 years old. Their approach is very sensible: Keep things very, very simple: One motor, one motion sensor, and one tilt sensor. RoboSoccer can wait until they are older.

For further information []

LEGO Dacta (1)

legoman666 (1098377) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072171)

My brother and I went to a "class" thingy that used LEGO Dacta. Dacta was basically the precursor to Mindstorms, just less n00bified. You wrote the programs in actual code, not using LEGO's horrible GUI with blocks. Shortly after we completed the class two years in a row, LEGO released Mindstorms. I got it for Christmas that year and was very excited. That is, until I tried to program one of my bots. The stupidly-simple GUI for writing programs killed my interest in the whole thing.

My brother and I made some pretty awesome models including a conveyor belt that sorted based on color, a temperature controlled green house, and a black and white autofeed scanner. The scanner was epic. It was so cool to see the picture we drew show up on the computer screen.

After poking around, it looks like you can still buy the stuff: []

Re:LEGO Dacta (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072525)

I love the gui. That style or programming interface could be used to write 90% of the application that get written.

on the plus side, you can also use a myriad of other languages and IDEs to program them.

I think you killed your interest, not the IDE because if you were interested, you would have found out how to load other programs.
It's a great tool for learning fourth.

Re:LEGO Dacta (1)

legoman666 (1098377) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072923)

I don't know. I was in 4th and 5th grade when I did the Dacta class and was probably in 6th grade when I got Mindstorms. I got it right after it came out, I don't think any of the new IDEs that are available now were available right at the release.

If I was still interested today, I'm sure I wouldn't be disappointed. In my Intro to ECECS (Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science) Lab, we made a Mindstorms robot that had to traverse an obstacle course. The IDE we used still used "blocks" to represent functions, but it wasn't as simplistic as the LEGO IDE. I think you could even look at the code behind the blocks if you wanted to.

roblocks (2, Interesting)

six11 (579) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072191)

I feel obliged to mention my colleague's PhD thesis project from CMU, which he's now (I think) in the process of commercializing. It's called roblocks [] at the moment, and it's a modular robotic construction kit. Each block is an autonomous robot with onboard computation. Some blocks have sensors, others are actuators, and others can perform math. You can build different behaviors by connecting them together.

Roblocks are incredibly cool. Some may go so far as to say they are rad.

Scribbler Robot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27072735)

In one of my intro CS classes, we used a scribbler robot with a custom bluetooth dongle to allow easy programming in Python. I seem to recall the robots have a simple BASIC like language to begin with. See [].

K-5? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072833)

Well there is always K-9 ... scratch that, that's probably for a time lord ;)

For very little kids (3-5) (3, Insightful)

davevr (29843) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073247)

For the low end of that range, it is fun to PLAY robot. Explain the concept that robots only do exactly what you say, and then make some "commands" like "move forward", "turn left", "pick up object" and then work together to try to solve problems, like "how can we get the rubber snake into your sister's bed?". The kid plays the role of the programmer, the CPU, the robot motor (we use toy dump trucks typically for this), and the all-important role of the debugger.

Animatronics is a cool alternative... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27073341)

Animatronics - building robotic puppets that perform a show - works great for younger kids. Some parents have been doing this on a volunteer basis, and put together a web site [] with lots of useful information.

Hope this helps...

FIRST Robotics (1)

arekuanubis (1492319) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073427)

I'd recommend taking a look at FIRST robotics. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, they are an organization created to get young people interested in engineering related fields for schooling. definitely worth taking a look into. []

You have died of dysentery. (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073589)

How about an OregonTrailBot? A scripted user-agent that could break its leg and die of dysentery, thus learning about the dangers of expansionism so the kids don't have to.

K-5 Lesson Plans from MathScience Innovation Ctr (1)

scerruti (1233214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073623)

The Math and Science Center in Richmond, VA has a robotics lab for K-5. You can find the lesson plans online at []
My wife taught these lessons and enjoyed them.

FLL (1)

ki4hrg (1418945) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074029)

While I have no personal experience with the program, I know people who participate in, and have had great success with, FLL (FIRST Lego League) is an outstanding program. I currently am lead programmer at the high school level for a team, and I know it's a great program at that level. As for platforms, I mentor an elementary team which uses NXT, with Robolab as the programming environment. I've never had any problem with it, and it's relatively easy for the kids to pick up on. The Robolab environment (based on LabVIEW fwiw) is very good for teaching logic and then relating it to robot actions.

fro5t )pist. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27074059)

have somebody just elected, we took tired arguments least I won't sanctions, and about who can rant

You're not that smart (1)

Alarindris (1253418) | more than 5 years ago | (#27074261)

And neither are they. Just because you think you were a genious when you were 5 doesn't mean anyone else was. Didn't mean you were either.

I'd say start with the alphabet, shapes, colors, and counting, and then maybe you can move to reading, writing, and mathematics.

They're too fucking young for robotics.

Get David Cook's book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27074819)

My son and I built a robot together using David Cook's fantastic book "Robot Building for Beginners".

He was four at the time. He helped with every aspect of the robot except the actual soldering. His favorite part was breadboarding the electronics since he got to put all the parts in by himself and see what happened with each new module added to the circuit. We spent a lot of time together shopping and scrounging for parts as well as building the robot. The reaction that he had when it was all built and working was priceless.

Sure he didn't learn anything about circuit analysis or programming but he does have an idea of what a resister does, what a transistor does etc. and he has an idea of what it takes to get a project done from start to finish. That's not bad for a four year old.

Now, his favorite thing to do is build things and he wants very much to be a scientist or engineer so I feel it was time, money and effort well spent.

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