IniRobot, a kit for discovering robotics and computing
Introducing computing and robotics in schools is child's play! That is the message the Flowers team wishes to get across using IniRobot, an introductory learning sequence to robotics.
How can we introduce children to robotics in a fun way? By using, for example, Thymio, a small open-source robot designed by EPFL Lausanne and which interacts with its environment. All it needs are wheels, sensors and diodes that light up when the robot reacts to surrounding objects to turn it into something interesting. Then just add a turnkey guide for activity leaders and teachers.
So Thomas Guitard, Didier Roy and Pierre-Yves Oudeyer from the Flowers team worked on creating IniRobot. It is a series of educational activities designed to introduce robotics and programming at primary school level. Each activity session is scheduled to last approximately 45 minutes. Everything is provided to support those activity leaders wishing to get involved, from educational objectives to technical fact sheets for installing the robot's software. There is also a forum where everybody can ask questions or look back on their own experience.
Marylin, who runs a public digital centre, discovered the dessine-moi un robot ("draw me a robot") website whilst searching for educational activities using Thymio. "It is rare to have so much documentation for this type of equipment! The forum will enable me to tell people how I adapt the activities - what works and what doesn't work as well - and also to find out what other activity leaders and teachers are doing. And it's also reassuring to know that we can chat with the researchers if we need a helping hand!"
Following trials in Aquitaine schools in May and June 2014, IniRobot has been used in extracurricular activities in Talence and Lille since the start of the school year. An experiment just waiting to be rolled out across France!
Didier Roy's perspective
Before joining Flowers, I was already running a few robotics activities in secondary schools. Moreover, as Flowers works a lot on learning and robotics, the idea of robotics for educational purposes quickly became obvious. If we add to that what we believe is a necessity - introducing young people to digital sciences, in particular computing - introducing them to robotics was a way of achieving this aim by offering a micro-world in which to learn about digital technology. Robotics is where the digital world and the physical world meet; this tangible expression of programming is, for example, an important asset for learning code. We chose an introduction to robotics for children from the age of 6 onwards in order to build a digital culture throughout the course of their schooling.