Everyone knows that children like playing and robots are an
excellent way to combine play and learning the principals of computer
science. However, robots can also be an expensive piece of kit –
particularly when you want to have a class set to allow all children to take
Settle Primary School, a small rural school in North Yorkshire,
has overcome these challenges by successfully applying for funding and grants to
support the development of fully stocked ‘Robots Lab’ ..
Sarah Entwistle is a Higher-Level Teaching
Assistant at Settle Primary and teaches most of the computing at the school.
Sarah, a self-confessed robots enthusiast, has been the driving force behind all
the competitions the school has entered.
“Robots have been part of every child's childhood. They are
an exciting way for children to get huge satisfaction from using physical
computing to solve problems, investigating what they can do and debating their
pros and cons."
“Robots have great appeal to girls and boys alike and you are
never too young or old to start finding out about them. Our STEM Room is a
great hit and our children, especially the younger ones, are now happily
In 2016, as part of her professional
development, Sarah attended a STEM Learning course 'VEX IQ: Integrating
robotics into the curriculum'. https://www.vexrobotics.com/228-2500.html This is a great
introductory course suitable for teachers with no prior knowledge of robotics –
it is bursary funded https://www.stem.org.uk/bursaries/enthuse and teachers get to keep
the Vex Robot Superkit used during the course.
“The course was amazing", says Sarah, “I was hooked straight
away. We were given a huge box full of bits that looked like a cross between
K'nex and Mecanno. It also contained various sensors and best of all the robot
“I felt like I was 10 years old again! First we built a Clawbot
and then the magic happened - not only could you control it using the remote
control, but you could program it using a simple graphical programming language
similar to Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) to carry out various
tasks using its mobility and sensors.
She added: “My colleague and I had great fun working out how to
program our robots to seek out a dark space, flash various coloured lights,
pick up objects with its 'claw' and use its bumper sensor to respond to
navigational difficulties by changing direction when hitting an object.”
After the course she was inspired and brought the robot back
to school to introduce it to the Digitals Leaders= pupils that are
confident with technology and willing to share their knowledge and skills with
Over several weeks they played with the model, fixed it when it
had accidents and talked about how to change the Clawbot to do
different things. As they worked together she knew that they all needed
more of these types of experiences within the school.
To complete the STEM-Learning course, Sarah had to write an action
plan setting out how she would develop robotics within her school. The
aim of her plan was to be able to use the new VEX IQ resource as a focus within
the classroom as well as in a small group. Her action plan was successfully entered for the Rolls-Royce
Science prize. https://www.stem.org.uk/rolls-royce-science-prize.
“We were selected as one of the sixty special merit awards and the
school received £1000 and were then asked to put together a project plan, said
Sarah. “Following this we were selected as a finalist in the 2018 Rolls-Royce
Science Prize with a project entitled ‘Foundation and Robot’ - its
intent is to link STEM skills.”
Children from both Key Stages took part in
activities themed around robots and they held a robot themed inter-school competition.
As part of the prize, Rolls-Royce gave them £5000 to invest in equipment and
resources to help them complete their project.
Here’s the details of Sarah’s project:
Foundation Robotics introduced IKE, the baby robot, who came to
our school to learn alongside our children. IKE would like to be a RefBot on
Robot Wars when he grows up and to help him learn he ‘asked’ classes for
assistance with understanding scientific concepts. IKE gave the children a
focus for their experiments and at the end of their topic a way to confirm
their results. IKE was also a focus for exploring technology, mathematics and
engineering concepts in our ‘Robot Workshop’ sessions in our STEM
The exciting finale to the project, a ‘Robot Rumble’ competition
was held for all primary schools in the area with a competitive game event and
a creative performance event – ‘Strictly Come Robot Dancing’
Sarah’s ideas for sharing robotics kit within the classroom:
1. Create laminated larger versions of the code
blocks used to program the VEX robot – children work in groups to put together
an algorithm using these. We take each group’s algorithm and I program the
robot, then we sit in a circle and we all watch the robot carry out the
instructions. The children can then debug or think about improving the
2. What is a robot? – we brainstorm what the
children know about robots then we research the question ‘What is a robot?’ to
get a definition. Finally, we find out about all sorts of different robots e.g.
Dogbot, Sophia, Asimo, Spirit and Opportunity, Kiva robots, NASA volcano
exploration etc. This activity helps children to see where we use robots in our
lives and how robots may be used in their future.
3. Robots as a focus for other activities e.g. in
literacy, design and technology… can you make an accessory for IKE, build a
rocket to send IKE to Mars etc. Remember that it is not always
necessary to program a robot – the robot can just be the ‘hook’ to capture
children’s imagination and interest.
4. As a way to introduce various sensors and
their use and functions.
5. BeeBots can be used in lots of creative ways –
marking out a maze using masking tape, programming two or more the same and
watching them synchronise – they like to dance too
Other funding sources – 2019 competition open now
NFU Farmvention Competition – (https://www.farmvention.com/ )
Competitions are a fantastic way to gain extra funding, resources or as a focus for a project. Our Year 1 children used IKE and some other robots as inspiration to design their own tractor of the future. We used a mixture of a VEX IQ base unit, some junk and K’nex to design robot tractor attachments. We sent in a video of our project and we won £600 pounds of robotic equipment that I spent on MBots https://www.makeblock.com/steam-kits/mbot.