Introducing Plobot - A Robotic Coding CompanionThursday, November 17, 2016
Most educators who keep up with the latest trends in education will likely agree that computer science is more than just a trend. Computational thinking is largely becoming recognized as a crucial skill that our children will need to succeed in the future. Steve Jobs once said,
"Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think."
With computational thinking becoming a core literacy, the argument in favour of computer science as a separate subject, both in primary and secondary education, is stronger than ever before. Hence the growing interest in learning and teaching children to code.
Typically, coding requires the use of computer screens or tablets, but what if we want to limit screen time or avoid the risk of little hands dropping an expensive tablet? NYU professor Rudi Cossovich decided to tackle this problem by designing Plobot, which allows for physical coding and interactive learning beyond the computer screen, toting it as an "antidote to excess screen time".
Plobot is an Arduino-based robot for 4 to 8 year-olds and is designed to be a child's first encounter with coding concepts. It is unique in that it uses cards and storytelling, as opposed to syntax and computer screens, to teach kids to navigate Plobot through a maze of obstacles, play music, light up with different colours, and even sense nearby objects. Using a built-in RFID scanner, kids can trigger actions by swiping command cards in sequence and stringing together a "program" that Plobot follows. The "Play" card works as an execute function and modifier cards mimic loops and conditionals, changing the effects of the other cards.
The concept behind Plobot fascinated me so much, I was compelled to support Plobot Team's Kickstarter project. I have only ever supported one other Kickstarter project, which was for Team Kano's physical computing project that teaches kids how to build a smart camera, a speaker and a light board, which can be used to learn how to code photo filters, songs, data and more. The whole idea of being able to build and code devices from scratch is incredibly exciting to me, and yet, I can't help but feel a sense of regret that this was never quite an option for me as a child of the '80's. Oh, to be a student in this day and age! Fingers crossed that Plobot reaches their Kickstarter goal.