Sharon Marzouk with a class of enthusiastic young people and their Thymio-based creations.
Sharon has discovered that robotics in the classroom is a great motivator for independent learning and discovery: to do something even more amazing.
With a background in mechanical engineering and an interest in design, engineering and working with children, I started teaching robotics – and now I have been teaching and happily involved for the past five years. .
I started teaching Lego Mindstorms in a creative after-school robotics program called Wizbots. After three years of teaching Lego Mindstorms to over 1000 kids, I had a good idea of its pros and cons. Advantages? Durable and great for the imagination. The disadvantages? If you weren’t an expert LEGO builder, it’s a little intimidating, it’s expensive, and you’re stuck in a world of graphics programming with no easy transition to learning real programming.
After three years of teaching, I started working with robotics company Willow Garage to design an exhibit for the Tech Museum with the $ 400,000 PR2 robot. I helped design the software and the interactive experience that had guests ages 2-99 to program the robot. Guests created and recorded poses by moving cursors, then watched their code compose in real time. We’ve seen it all, from PR2 dancing the Macarena to playing Shakespeare.
I loved that the PR2 inspired kids to get started with robotics and reduced the bullying of programming – it’s a shame that the size and price of the PR2 prevents a user from continuing the experience of robotics. learning at home. Fortunately, it was also at the Willow Garage that I first met the Thymio II robot and one of the EPFL researchers involved. I immediately took a liking to this cute and friendly little robot, with its 20 sensors and 39 LEDs. With such a personality, I automatically assigned a gender, so from now on, if I am referring to a “he”, please understand that I am referring to Thymio II, and know that I have also had children who decide that Thymio is really a ‘she’.
I had a hunch that it would be a hit with kids and a great robotics teaching tool. The first time I brought Thymio to class, I gave a presentation on robotics, and the boy did the kids’ FLIP when I took Thymio out. All the children enthusiastically exclaimed, “DO YOU HAVE A ROBOT IN YOUR BAG ?!”
The first time I took Thymio to a classroom was for my interview with Woodland School. After seeing such enthusiasm from Kindergarten and Grade 5 kids, I was brought in to work for Woodland as the Kindergarten to Grade 8 Instructional Technology Coordinator and to create a program around Thymio. .
What I love about the Thymio is its adaptability – I was able to teach with it at all age levels, from kindergarten to grade 8 in the classroom. Thymio has all the components in one and several pre-programmed modes. For kindergarten, we can talk about motors and sensors, and behaviors. Kids will create interactive animals by building from Thymio with LEGOs and other arts and crafts, then use the pre-programmed behaviors.
For students around 8-10 years old, Thymio has been a great tool for teaching experimentation, technology, critical thinking, programming, invention, teamwork, design, construction… and I could go on and on. The visual programming language composes the code in real time and creates a nice bridge to the written code. I ran a successful summer camp where I was able to easily teach programming iterations and code writing to kids as young as seven.
Seeing such success in the classroom motivated me to create a program for other teachers so that they could receive a box of robots and, with the help of an online program, could then start teaching a class. This is the reason why I started TechyKids. The best part about it all is that the Thymio is a robot that after some initial guidance will motivate kids to learn and experiment on their own. Today was (another) perfect example of this – I helped solve some problems for a 4th grade class, which started with Thymio, but after that the kids were fully absorbed in their own work.
Some of the informal side conversations were as follows:
Student # 1: “Oh, I think I know! “
Student n ° 2: “Why? “
Student n ° 3: “Now I wonder how I can make him feel a cliff …”
Student # 1: “I love technology. “
Student # 4: “I found a way to make him blush. “
Student # 5: “How did you do this? “
Student # 2: “Would you rather have more physical education or technology?” “
Student n ° 3: “Technology, definitely”
What I liked about the Thymio inspired conversations is that they came out naturally. The children asked why, collaborated, helped each other and were passionate about their work. Classrooms all over the world yearn for this kind of result, and I feel fortunate to have come across a product that can produce such satisfying results. In my opinion, if we can get kids to program robots by age seven, by the time they’re in high school and beyond, they’ll do something even more amazing.