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Robotics and Computer Science for Elementary Level Learners

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I absolutely love all of the new robotics toys that have been coming out for elementary age learners.  I have been using them for my summer maker camp, with my gifted education classes, and for my upcoming Saturday morning program. One of my gifted girls noted, “Where do all of these robots come from?” I laughed and told her, “It’s actually has become one of my passions. Collecting them has become a major hobby of mine.”

I usually use them for an hour per week with my two groups of gifted learners.  I am an advocate of student-centric learning and giving them choices as to which instructional activities they would like to engage. For their robotics hour each week, I am giving them the following choices with their goal of using five of the robotics to complete five of the tasks provided.

My robotics-type devices include:

  • Sphero
  • Ollie
  • Dash and Dot
  • littleBits: Gizmos and Gadgets; Arduino
  • Ozobot
  • Quirkbot
  • Jimu Robot
  • Finch Robot
  • Makey-Makey
  • Osmo Coding
  • micro:bit
  • Adafruit Circuit Playground
  • Let’s Start Coding
  • Bloxels

Binary Bracelets: Introduction to Coding


The craft activity involves letting the students make a stylish necklace for themselves, where their names are spelled out in binary using black and white beads. See for further directions.

Board Games to Teach Coding: Introduction


Several board games that teach children computer coding concepts have been brought out recently. They make a good complement to online learning games and enable techie kids to have some fun family time away from a computer screen.

The Task:

After learning a little bit about Robot Turtles, Code Monkey Island, and CodeMasters, play one or two of them.

Breakout Edu’s Caught in the Code: Introduction to Coding

We are caught in an infinite loop! Someone has re-written our classroom code and we are stuck. We will keep having the same day over and over unless we can find the correct code to de-bug the system. The correct code has been locked in the Breakout EDU box – once we figure out the combos, we will can escape the loop and move forward.

The Task:

The teacher will walk the group through this task. Introduction to Coding® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra.

The Task:

As an introduction to robotics and computer science, do a few hours of tutorials via The site, itself, offers a number of different tutorials, within their Hour of Code page – Feel free to do the ones that look interesting to you.

CoSpaces: Introduction to Coding

The Task:

After creating an account at CoSpaces using your school gmail, create a scene and use their Block coding to animate the people and objects in your scene. How-to directions can be found at

Sphero and Ollie

“The app enabled ball that does it all” – that’s the tag line for Sphero 2.0. Sphero is robotic ball that connects to your smartphone or tablets over Bluetooth.  It has built in multi-color LEDs that gives it light effect in combination of colors. It is waterproof, too. The free SPRK education program (which can be used with both Sphero and Ollie) has series of lab exercises to teach kids programming and robotics concepts.

The Task: The Maze

Program the Sphero or Ollie with the SPRK Lightning Lab app to navigate your own original maze made out of obstacles and materials in the learning environment. To complete this challenge, you must gather data about the best route through a maze and figure out how to build a program so Sphero can successfully navigate through the mayhem. More about this lesson can be found at

The Task: Painting with Sphero

Using a large piece of paper, different types of finger paints, the Sphero with the nobby cover, and the Lightening SPRK app, create a Jackson Pollack type painting. The full lesson plan can be found here –

A “cleaner” alternative is to do a light painting with the Sphero using a long exposure app – see

The Task: Battlebots

With a partner, create a Battlebot out of the Sphero or Ollie, cardboard, Popsicle sticks, and skewers. Challenge another team or two to a Battle. Last team with a balloon intact wins.

More lessons can be found at

Dash and Dot

Dash & Dot are real robots that teach kids to code while they play. Using free apps and a compatible tablet or smartphone, kids learn to code while they make these robots sing, dance and navigate all around the house. Sensors on the robot mean they react to the environment around them.

The Task: Rolling the Code

Using the Blockly app, complete the Dash and Dot Robots: Rolling for Code activity as described in


The Task: The Xylophone

Using the Xylophone and Xylo app, program Dash to play at least three songs.


littleBits Gizmos and Gadgets

Explore the possibilities of inventing with the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit. The Bits components snap together with magnets, for quick alterations on the fly. Chock full of motors, wheels, lights, servos, and more. The kit boasts 13 littleBits and instructions for 16 inventions.

The Task:

Complete two of the projects from the invention guide, from the Invention App, and/or make your own invention. Download the Invention Guide – littlebits-ggk2-invention-guide.


Control Ozobot with colors! Draw OzoCode color codes on paper or a tablet and Ozobot uses optical sensors to respond—spinning, speeding up and more at your command. It comes with an OzoCode chart and over 20 games and activities. Color coding masters can move on with free Ozobot apps and the OzoBlockly editor, which introduces block-based programming.

The Task:

After playing with the Ozobot color based coding, learn how to use Ozoblocky –  Teach two other learners how to use it.


Quirkbot is a microcontroller toy that anyone can program. It is compatible with the open construction toy Strawbees and can be used along with readily available materials like regular drinking straws, LEDs, and hobby servos (motors) to create a wide variety of hackable toys. Let your creations express themselves and interact with their environment through sound, light and motion.

The Task:

Go through the tutorials found at and then build at least one of the Quirkbots found at Teacher’s guide can be downloaded: quirkbot-educators-guide-v0-9

Lego WeDo

The LEGO® Education WeDo 1.0 is an easy-to-use concept that introduces young students to robotics. Students will be able to build LEGO models featuring working motors and sensors; program their models; and explore a series of cross-curricular, theme-based activities while developing their skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as language, literacy, and social studies.

The Task:

Build one or more of the robots. Use Scratch to program them. These Scratch examples can help:

Jimu Robot

Create a humanoid robot  with UBTECH’s Jimu Robot Meebot robot kit—and program it with the free Jimu Robot app on your iPhone or iPad. The kit’s six robotic servo motors give your robot smooth, life-like movement. Use the easy-to-follow 3D animated instructions on the Jimu Robot free app to build your MeeBot. Then employ the app’s intuitive programming function to devise an endless sequence of actions for him.

The Task:

Make a Jimu robot using the Jimu app.

Finch Robot

The Finch is a small robot designed to inspire and delight students learning computer science by providing them a tangible and physical representation of their code.  The Finch has support for over a dozen programming languages, including environments appropriate for students as young as five years old!  The Finch was developed to catalyze a wide range of computer science learning experiences, from an entry into the basics of computational thinking all the way to writing richly interactive programs.

The Task:

Use Scratch Programming to, first, do the basics found at, and second, to do one of the projects found at


Using the MaKey MaKey you can make anything into a key just by connecting a few alligator clips. The MaKey MaKey is an invention kit that tricks your computer into thinking that almost anything is a keyboard. This allows you to hook up all kinds of fun things as an input. For example, play Mario with a Play-Doh keyboard, or piano with fruit!

The Task: Hacked Poetry

Program the Makey-Makey with Scratch to read a poem – attach Makey Makey to four drawings made by pencil that represent that poem. Idea for this came from Makey Makey Hacked Poetry Month Part I.

The Task: A Small Group Project

With one or two of your classmates, do one of the projects found at

Osmo Coding

Osmo Coding uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character who loves delicious strawberries. Each block is a coding command that directs Awbie on a wondrous tree-shaking, strawberry-munching adventure.

The Task:

Play the game for 45 minutes and use each of the types of coding blocks during that time period.

littleBits Arduino (advanced)

The Arduino Bit is a tiny computer called a microcontroller. It brings the power of programing to your littleBits circuits, allowing you to create complex sequences of actions and explore new levels of logic and timing.

The Task:

For this advanced option, watch the getting started video at and then do one or more of the tasks found at

micro:bit (advanced)

You can use your BBC micro:bit for all sorts of creations, from robots to musical instruments. This little device has a lot of features, like 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. There are two programmable buttons that can be used to control games. Your BBC micro:bit can detect motion and tell you which direction you’re heading in, and it can use a low energy Bluetooth connection to interact with other devices and the Interne.

The Task:

For this advanced option, do two of the projects featured on

Adafruit Circuit Playground (advanced)

Circuit Playground features an ATmega32u4 micro-processor with contains within it: 10 x mini NeoPixels – each one can display any rainbow color; Motion sensor; Temperature sensor; Light sensor; Sound sensor (MEMS microphone); Mini speaker (magnetic buzzer); 2 x Push buttons – left and right; Slide switch; 8 x alligator-clip friendly input/output pins. You can power and program it from USB. Program your code into it, then take it on the go.

The Task:

For this advanced option, do one of the projects featured on

Let’s Start Coding Base Kit (advanced)

We’ve made it easy to learn the fundamentals of all coding languages, like methods, functions, and statements.  Your code will control electronic lights, speakers, buttons, sensors, screens, and more. Follow 14 step-by-step lessons to get the basics down. Tinker with already-working programs.

The Task:

For this advanced option, start at and then complete 6 lessons found at


Bloxels® is an innovative video game development platform that allows you to create your own video games. With easy-to-use physical and digital tools, you decide what the game looks like and configure how it is played. You tell the story of the characters and design their looks. You create the obstacles and the power-ups.

Bloxels really isn’t a robotics nor coding platform, but because of the interactivity of physical objects with technology, I include it as part of my robotics kit.

The Task:

Watch the tutorials found at and build a game that uses five rooms where each of those rooms include characters, backgrounds, hazards, and powerups.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 2, 2017 at 11:41 pm

A Class on Coding and Bots

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Thinglink of Resources:

I have been asked to return to teach summer enrichment classes on maker education for elementary-aged learners at a local school during the summer of 2016. One of the new classes I am designing is called Coding and Bots. It is a week long (5 days) class that will meet for 2.5 hours each morning. The description is:

Learn how to code first by playing games and then by coding some bots including Sphero, Ollie, mBot, OZOBOT, and Dash and Dot. All ages are welcome but the child should have basic symbol recognition/reading skills.

Two things to note about this class are, first, I learned last summer not to underestimate the learning potential of very young kids. These classes are mixed ages ranging from 4 to 10 year old kids. For most of the maker education activities, the very young ones could perform them, sometimes better than the older kids. Second, I am a strong proponent of hands on activities. Although I like the use of iPads and computers, I want elementary aged students to have to directly interact with materials. As such, I am designing Coding and Bots to include using their bodies and manipulating objects. This translates into having all activities include the use of objects and materials excluding and in conjunction with the iPad – not just using the iPad and online apps/tools to learn to code. The activities I plan to do follow:

Warm-Ups: Human Robots

Coding the Cups

Adapted from this Tinkersmith Activity, learners use symbols and plastic cups to act as robots using the coded symbols to build and manipulate a cup stack. Each small group of 2 to 4 learners gets 18 to 24 plastic cups and a set of symbol cards (a few sets of the template below):


The cups are lined up on two levels. Each player, one at a time, picks and flips over one of the symbol cards and does the action stated on the card with the cups. In doing their movements, players need to insure that their selected cup is in contact with at least one other cup as part of their action. A player is “out” if s/he knocks over the cup/cups. The winner is the last player who places a cup without knocking any over. To increase the challenge, have learners play the game with just the symbols during second or third round of the game.

Kodable fuzzFamily Frenzy

Learners create a simple obstacle course where they “program” a partner to complete it using the code key below. Once they have written their code their partner must follow instructions to complete the course.


An Outdoor Treasure Hunt Through Codes

The educator sets up a Treasure Hunt outdoors for the learners to solve using coding clues provided by the educator. The coding clues are based on the following legend:

treasurehunt symbols

The pre-activity set-up includes setting up clues around the outdoor learning environment that lead from landmark to landmark and finally to a treasure (a treat or prize of some kind) along with the coding clues to get to each of the landmarks. Several routes might have to be set up if working with a larger group. I recommend no more than 3 or 4 per group. Learners are given the first clue, a series of the coding symbols that lead to the first landmark. An example might look like:

treasurehunt example

When they arrive at that landmark, they will find another clue, another series of coding symbols that lead to the next landmark and so on until they arrive at the last landmark that contains their treasure.

As a follow-up, learners will be separated into smaller groups to set up a treasure hunt for the other groups using the same legend of coding symbols.

This activity was adapted from Kodable’s Fuzz Family activity.

Superhero Coding for Kids

Use basic programming ideas to help Batman avoid the bad guys and get the jewels! You have to get him to move on the right path around the obstacles using basic programming commands.  The directions for this game can be found at


Board + Manipulative Games

Robot Turtles Game

Learners will play the Robot Turtles Board Game. Robot Turtles is the a board game that teaches coding skills to kids as young as four, and the only screen-free resource for this pivotal age group. Read more at

Liz Engel Greaser designed an extension to this game but having her learners create their own Robots Turtle Games – see Extensions for Robot Turtles for the how-tos.

Coding Monkey Island

Learners will also play the Code Monkey Island. Its description is:

Code Monkey Island, the board game designed to teach players of all ages computer science logic! As the wise leader of your own tribe of monkeys, it’s up to you to guide all three of your monkeys safely around the board and into the banana grove. You’ll have to use concepts like conditional statements, looping, booleans, assignment operators and more to earn moves for your monkeys, dodge quicksand traps, and score some delicious fruit along the way!

Code Master

In Code Master, your Avatar travels to an exotic world in search of power Crystals. Along the way, you use programming logic to navigate the Map. Think carefully, in each level, only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success. Once you collect all the Crystals and land at the Portal, you win! (

Osmo Coding

Osmo Coding begins with an assortment of modular magnetic blocks. You snap together numbered blocks along with commands such as “run,” “jump,” and “grab,” as you guide a tiny monster named Awbie on his eternal quest for more strawberries.

Bots and Coding

Finally. the learners will move into coding the bots: Sphero, Dash and Bot, and Ozobot.

Sphero and Ollie

Learners will code their Spheros and Ollies using the Tynker app.


MESH tags

MESH are wireless electronic tags shaped like blocks and each of them has different function. When you connect them together by using MESH app, your ‘what if’ ideas come to life. There is no need for knowledge of electronics or programming. Creating an IoT (internet of things) system will be very simple with MESH.

Dash and Dot

Children ages 5 and up learn the foundations of problem solving and computer programming as they have fun with Dash & Dot.  Dash Dash is an explorer who zips around the room, getting into mischief along the way. Using sensors, Dash can detect objects in front and behind, hear where you are, and see where Dot is. This robot has quite the personality and becomes more capable as you program and play. Introducing Dot Dot is a puppet master who instigates the adventures that Dash goes on. When you toss, shake, or pick Dot up, Dot sends a signal telling Dash what to do. Dot can also tell stories using lights, sounds, and eye expressions.

Lesson plans for Dot and Dash can be found at


OZOBOT is an award winning smart robot, designed to teach kids & techies alike about robotics, programming & coding.

Ozoblocky is the programming language. The editor can be found at

OZOBOT  lesson plans can be found at and


CodeBug is a cute, programmable and wearable device designed to introduce simple programming and electronic concepts to anyone, at any age. CodeBug can display graphics and text, has touch sensitive inputs and you can power it with a watch battery. It is easy to program CodeBug using the online interface, which features colourful drag and drop blocks, an in-browser emulator and engaging community features. Create your own games, clothes, robots or any other wacky inventions you have in mind! (

Codebug lesson plans can be found at and

Extras – Build a Bot



The O Watch


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