Presentation 11: Robots and Block Diagrams

In this workshop we look at how things that seem obvious to us as humans need instructions for robots - going up the stairs, feeding a baby, cleaning teeth. We represent instructions with block diagrams (commands, conditionals, loops). Kids get an assignment to write instructions for a robot to get from point A to point B on a grid with some squares inaccessible. At the end kids play robots - they split into pairs and one kid gives instructions to the other one, who plays a robot.


Printer a grid attached for every child. Randomly mark points A and B on the grid. The kids will have to write instructions how to get from A to B.
Also attached is the pdf file with block diagram suggestions.
You are going to need a white board as well.


Today we are going to talk about Robots!
Who can show a robot?

Invite a volunteer and have her walk like a robot.

Now, imagine your parents got a new robot. This robot knows how to do very simple instructions - for example, make a step, or pick a pen, but it doesn't know how to do complicated things. So we need to write instructions for it. For example, let's teach a robot how to feed soup to a baby. What do we need?

Here and later have kids participate. Sometimes what they suggest may be much better idea than what's described in this presentation. 

We need a bowl with soup, a spoon and a baby's mouth

Draw a bowl of soup, a spoon and a baby's mouth.

If we tell a robot " feed the baby", it will have no idea what to do, we need to be very specific. So, what is the first step? 
Have kids come up with the right sequence. Draw the result.

Have kids gradually see the problem with the pictures on the left and come up with the right solution (right)
(first picture - only one spoon is fed, second picture - robot is going to feed a baby infinitely)

The square boxes are commands. The rhombus box is a question that a robot should ask itself and answer yes or no to.

Let's try some other examples

One kid suggested walking up the stairs. Here I show several ideas - choose as many as you like, make sure the kids are still engaged.

The attached PDF contains a list of ideas for block diagrams. (You can also use this link)
Here is a list:
1. Wash dishes
  • if dirty plates are still left, pick a plate, wash a plate, put it away
2. Make a snowman
  • Push a snow ball until the it's big
  • Push a snow ball until the it's medium size
  • Push a snow ball until the small
  • Put medium on top of big
  • Put small on top of medium
  • Put a carrot in a small one
3. Clean teeth
  • Take a brush, put a tooth paste on it, open mouth, clean until finished, water mouth, clean brush, put brush away

Do not just draw them - have kids come up with the solution and spot where their solutions wouldn't work

Now, let's try to have a robot walk!
Invite a volunteer and direct her to go back to her seat by saying "left, right, walk N steps"

We are going to do an assignment: Everyone will get a grid with A and B on it. You need to have a robot go from A to B, avoiding the red squares.

Draw on a board a sample 4x4 board with some squares crossed out. Draw A and B.
Here is the instructions you can write:

Left 3
Up 1
Right 2
Down 2

In general, it's direction and the number of steps in this directions.

Initially i thought the kids can do the following commands : left, right, make N steps. However it turned out extremely challenging (I myself make a mistake while showing them an example) - first there was no way for kids to remember what direction the robot is facing (it might have been easier if the robot was a small toy), second, when they write "left" most of them assume that the robot moves to the left, not just turns to the left. The task with up,down,left and right is much easier and more appropriate for this age.

Another idea, which would be cool to try - have kids write a letter or their name on a grid with such instructions. 

Have kids complete the assignment, help if needed.

Robot games.

Spread cards with digits all over the floor. There should be duplicate digits. Split kids into pairs- robots and instructors. Instructors are given a list of digits to pick from the floor. Their goal is to direct a robot to pick the cards using only these words: left, right, forward, stop, pick, drop.

This game may be played in 2 teams - a  team needs to pick the largest number of digits in the right order all together.

After the game you can have the kids switch.

Here is a homework for you: have you parents be robots: give them instructions and have them execute them!
Misha Leder,
Mar 5, 2010, 11:47 AM
Misha Leder,
Mar 5, 2010, 10:50 AM