In a world driven by technology, there has been an emerging movement devoted to teaching kids how to program early on. As mentioned in my last post, teaching kids computer science in K-8 education has many benefits. But one problem is that there aren’t many tools out there that are able to teach computer science effectively for young students at affordable prices. The Wyss educational robotics team at Harvard sought to solve this problem.
Led by Mike Rubenstein, the research team built the Affordable Education Robot (AERobot), which has several functions such as moving laterally, turning, detecting light, and following lines. The robot uses a programming environment, which is a modification of Minibloq. Through this environment, one can program the robot to do various things without any lines of code. It is a simple, graphical interface that is tailored towards students. Despite the simplicity, students can learn computer science concepts that are essential to higher-level problems. In fact, the team at Harvard has designed its own fifteen-lesson curriculum, which teaches kids about fundamentals such as variables, if statements, and loops.
So beyond that, what makes this so special? Its inexpensive cost: $10.70. Yes, for $10.70, anybody can have access to this robot and begin learning how to program. This inexpensive price tag makes it much easier for schools to begin implementing computer science into their curricula.
The AERobot is legitimate and affordable. So, what’s next? The team has tested their product on middle school students and will continue to test it on students to see how they can improve the curriculum and software. The goal is that the curriculum will become so simple and effective that students will not need a teacher to pick up concepts. Once this product is released to the general market, students will hopefully have more access to computer science education. The fun, interactive experience of this robot will enable students to enjoy computer science and perhaps pursue it, as they grow older. This product will also hopefully close the achievement gap in STEM fields and foster more diversity in the tech industry. With the growing demand for future programmers, there is a demand for innovations that will help teach programming. Hats off to Rubenstein and the Wyss group for their neat project.