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December 16, 2014

The finch robot : Programming (1)

Programming with Scratch has been getting more interesting with interacting with the real world with the makey-makey that was able to let the computer receive signals from bananas and vegetables. Gaurav's gift of a Finch robot gave a way for children to control something that happens in the real world.

The setup on Ubuntu 14.04/Scratch 2.0 worked with the given guide

I explained and demonstrated the sensors, played with its nose light and then we got down to making the finch move. In the initial exercise I was trying to get the children to move the finch around in a certain order, but what made it interesting was to try to move a crumbled paper ball around and put it in a basket without the Finch falling off.

The finch has two wheels that are controlled independently with (two) motors. The only input possible is a speed from -100 (backward) to +100 (forward). In order to rotate an object, for example, you need to move one wheel faster than the other. Also, since we had not figured a direct relation between the speed and a specific distance there was some guess work involved in the time that it needs to be done for.

The phases involved in solving the problem involved in drawing out what they wanted and what speeds in which wheels for how long will be involved in doing so. The wheels were a little wobbly and even when the two speeds were exactly the same the finch had a bit of a drift to one side. But, that just added to the challenge :).

I split the students in groups of 3 or 4 to allow for discussion and team work. The game was to be able to do it in the least number of attempts. I noticed that groups were not that keen on observing what another group was doing as they wanted to only follow their own program to avoid confusion. But, since my purpose was for them to start predicting the outcome I provided an incentive of an extra attempt if a group predicted the outcome accurately. This got the groups interested in examining each others work as well.
After a couple of attempts the children started to really get into the idea of predicting what a set of instructions is going to do and how to go about solving the puzzle. The reality of a paper crushed into a ball is that it didn't always move with the finch and kept things interesting. Its interesting that while children keep track of the number of tries, etc none of this really matters and the first time a ball falls into a box the children want to do the next puzzle.

The ideas of rotation, positive negative numbers, speed, timing were reiterated. In addition problem solving by prediction, verification and correcting what they were doing and the idea of learning from what happens rather than it just being right/wrong was an aspect looked into.

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