Primary ICT - Bee-Bot and his big brother

19th September 2008 at 01:00
These floor robots are programmed to succeed, says Ben Trevail

Why does control technology strike such fear into the hearts and minds of primary teachers? Memories of teaching a class of 30 how to program a lone Roamer with an unreliable battery perhaps? Or being faced with the task of untangling the web of wires emanating from a dusty set of plastic traffic lights? Luckily, times have changed.

At Mayfield Primary School in west London, children in the nursery have access to Bee-Bots (pound;44.99 each) as part of their structured play activities. Bee-Bots are programmable floor robots that move in 15cm steps and turns of 90 degrees.

Familiarity with technology from an early age is important and throughout key stage 1, pupils are introduced to the language of programming and develop an understanding of distance and turn.

They apply these skills to navigate the Bee-Bot through obstacle courses and across activity mats, linked for example to learning consonant-vowel- consonant words at key stage 1, phonics or money, establishing a link to maths and literacy.

By Year 5, pupils have advanced to Pro-Bots (pound;75.99), the Bee-Bot's older brother, allowing more advanced programming: distance in centimetres, angles in degrees, sensors and procedures. I planned a sequence of maths lessons linked to shape and space, allowing pupils to apply their programming skills while investigating angles and two-dimensional shapes. The objective was to consolidate control technology skills while using and applying strands of the Primary Framework in a fun and creative way. A class set of six Pro-Bots was used, along with Probotix software on laptops, allowing pupils to work in small groups, generating exciting and relevant discussions.

After introductory work on length and angles, including estimating and measuring angles using a protractor, the children were given various shapes on A3 card. The lower achievers had shapes with right angles: rectangles and compound shapes. The higher achievers had assorted triangles and quadrilaterals. The task was to program the Pro-Bot to travel around the perimeter.

At first I encouraged them to estimate distances and angles before pupils refined their programs with accurate measurements using rulers and protractors. After realising that the Pro-Bot turned through an exterior angle, they made a leap in understanding by using the fact that two angles in a straight line total 180 degrees.

The next task involved programming the Pro-Bot to draw a series of regular polygons, starting with an equilateral triangle. This task allowed pupils to investigate the properties of regular polygons and the sizes of interior and exterior angles, while revising the names of these two- dimensional shapes.

By using the fact that the Pro-Bot turns through 360 degrees if it starts and finishes in the same position, pupils calculated the angles involved. For example, an equilateral triangle requires three turns, leading to the calculation 360 divided by 3. Here is a program to draw an equilateral triangle of sides 30cm: Fd 30 Rt 120 Fd 30 Rt 120 Fd 30 Rt 120.

This can be simplified by using repeat commands: Rpt 3(Fd 30 Rt 120).

Using control technology in these lessons resulted in leaps of knowledge and understanding in maths and technology. Pupils were highly enthusiastic and motivated and keen to pursue the concepts through more creative programming. By creating procedures for shapes and using repeat commands, pupils programmed the Pro-Bot to draw elaborate patterns based on simple geometric shapes.

These lessons stimulated discussion and group work and allowed key maths and technology skills to be used and applied in a creative context. With cheap and fantastic resources available, I feel that control technology can lie right at the heart of learning in the classroom, from nursery to Year 6 and beyond.

Ben Trevail is ICT co-ordinator at Mayfield Primary School in Hanwell, west London. The school won two Becta ICT Excellence Awards in 2007.

TOP TIPS

- Allow pupils to make mistakes and refine their programs accordingly.

- If only a few Pro-bots are available, split the class so some pupils are using Pro-bots and some are using Probotix software.

- Look for links to other curriculum areas, especially literacy and science.

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