you might think (check out the July 2009
issue for more on this vexing mystery).
The Robotis website offers a plethora of
sample programs (or “tasks” in RoboPlus
lingo). Downloading the first sample task is
quick and painless; we were then ready to
see if we made our first passing grade with
the STEM kit.
The sample program for the first lesson
simply has the robot follow directions
according to the way directional buttons on
the CM-530 brain module are pressed.
Seeing the robot buzz to life for the first
time was rewarding as always. That’s one of
the reasons we think that robots are such
great teaching tools. Seeing a little machine
that you put together come to life — no
matter how simple — is always inspiring. It’s
exactly the kind of pick-me-up needed before
diving into our next lesson — programming.
Building and wiring up a robot has
always seemed a bit less intimidating than
programming. Most kids have played with
LEGOs or toy cars, so the parts that go into a
robot don’t seem entirely alien. Programming
— on the other hand — is usually entirely
unexplored territory for novice roboticists.
The STEM kit, however, has come up with one of the more
elegant introductions to programming that we have seen.
The first lesson about sequential commands is meant to
give new roboticists a sense about what a program does —
it gives a robot a set of instructions to follow one after the
other. The next lesson — and the beginning of the
application phase — is programming the robot. The
curriculum begins with some flowcharts to explain the logic
of the target program — a program that
stores five button commands before
executing them. Then, the manual throws
actual program syntax into the mix. While this
might seem like jarring immersion therapy to
students, we think it’s a great way to take the
plunge into programming.
The manual confronts a chunk of code,
but breaks it down and explains what every
piece of syntax means. It’s a bit more intense
than the traditional “Hello World”
introduction to code, but we think the
positive reinforcement of seeing the robot
obey a sequence of commands is worlds
more rewarding than some unassuming text
on a screen.
The syntax of RoboPlus is very much like
C syntax, and the first lesson presents
students with some loops, case functions,
and some conditional constructs. The
interface highlights each piece of syntax in a
distinct color, making it as easy as possible for
A BASIC BUGGY.
students to follow along.
Once we downloaded the program, we were at the
end of the applications phase. Now it was time to move on
to problem solving, and the curriculum offers a host of fun
tasks for students to complete with their lively bot. The
tasks range from obstacle courses to word games, and the
curriculum demonstrates that there is plenty of learning to
be had even with the most basic buggy design.
WIRING UP EVERYTHING FOR THE FIRST TIME.
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