Thursday, 18 June 2020

The Robots Are Coming

Digital Technology: the robots are coming to Autahi ...

... but don't be alarmed: we know how to programme them!

We often describe children as 'digital natives': they have never known a world without iPads, smartphones and computers and often display a remarkable affinity for technology. Knowing how to use technology effectively and responsibly is a vital skill. But our Digital Technology learning goes deeper than this. At the heart of the Digital Technology curriculum is the aspiration that students become creators as well as users of technology.

This means learning to think like a computer scientist, also known as Computational Thinking. We are learning the skill of breaking down tasks into precise, step-by-step, unambiguous instructions. These step-by-step processes are also known as algorithms.

We began with an algorithm that we're all too familiar with right now: washing our hands. In Autahi, we have a great hand-washing routine going. We worked together to write step-by-step instructions for this. Then, we tried mixing up the routine. What if we dried our hand first? What if we finished off by wetting our hands or putting soap on? This made us laugh a lot because it seemed so silly. But it was also pretty clear to all of us that this algorithm just wasn't working: we had to follow the instructions in the right order to get the outcome we wanted (in this case, clean and dry hands).

Next, we became robots. As robots, we responded to four commands only: forward, back, right and left (if your child brought stickers with l and r home with them on their hands, now you know why!). Using these four commands, we practised directing our robots towards a target.

The robots could only do exactly as they were told so the instructions had to be precise.

We tried this on a grid in the playground. We found that we had to tell our robots exactly how many squares to travel, as well as the direction. 

Sometimes our robots did unexpected things. This is where debugging comes in. Our students are learning that robots will follow their instructions exactly. So, if their instructions aren't right, they won't get the results they are hoping for. This can very funny - and sometimes frustrating. Either way, it needs sorting out. We work on using our Perseverance to find the bug and fix it.

This week, we have been using the same four instructions to move a Pacman around a grid to gobble 
up all the pellets.

Next time, we will start recording our instructions. This will be challenging: if we write an algorithm for Pacman, can another person follow it? Will Pacman get to gobble the pellets?

Watch this space. (Now time for the binary solo...)

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