ICT in the classroom - Programmable toys and more
Problem solving with programmable toys incorporates estimating and measuring with number, length, angles and time, and offers opportunities to make links with other areas of learning, particularly literacy, design and technology and science. It’s no surprise that in their report, Digital Technologies – A new beginning, BECTA and the NCETM recommend that one of the features of interactive use of digital technologies should be writing “short computer programs, for example for movements of ‘roamers’ on the floor”. Aspects of mathematics can be explored through robots at all ages and levels of development, in the primary school and beyond. Different types of programmable robot will be needed depending on whether the activity will require the robot turning angles other than 90 degrees, and on the accuracy needed.
Robots and storybooks
What if the three little pigs in the story of the same name were robots, or travelled on a robot, from one house to the next in their story? The ‘costume’ does not need to be elaborate, as long as it is clear which way the character is facing. A pig could be made with a pink paper spiral for a tail and a pink paper circle for a snout attached to the rear and front of the robot.
Any story involving steps on a journey can be used in the same way, for example Going on a Bear Hunt, The Gruffalo, The Very Lazy Ladybird or Big Blue Train. If you are sure that the context will not cause confusion between forward and back, and up and down, the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk or Rapunzel could also be used. Each step in the journey that the character takes needs to be given a place in the classroom. The easiest way to show this is with a photocopy of the appropriate page from the storybook. Children can programme instructions into the robot and move along with it, using the prompts at each stop in the journey to tell the story. If the exploration with the robot is part of a class theme, then the props used for the journey of the story, and for dressing the roamer, could develop and use skills learnt through design and technology, together with opportunities for exploring shape, estimating and measuring with a purpose.
The mathematical activity can be made more difficult through including the need for turns to get to the next stop on the journey, or needing to programme the whole sequence into the robot, with a wait command of a number of seconds at each stop.
Robots – numbers, measures and time
Make a number track using the programmable robot. Start by marking the front and back positions of the robot on a large sheet of paper, mark the space under the robot ‘0’. Move the robot forward one step, mark where the front of the robot reaches on the paper and mark ‘1’ in the space under the robot. Continue to create a number track for the robot. If appropriate, the number track can also continue to the left to show negative numbers for moves that take the robot back beyond zero.
Create a time track by programming the robot to travel forwards in a straight line beside a piece of string for the longest distance possible in the space that you have. Ask the children to mark the point on the string that the robot is passing after 5, 10, 15 seconds.
Time how long the robot takes to do a full turn (360 degrees). Does it take half the time to do a ½ turn? What about a ¼ turn? What other angles, or fractions of turn, could we estimate? Work out how long it would take the robot to get to somewhere in the classroom, school or further afield. Depending on the geography of your setting, it may be possible to find a real purpose for your robot by having it deliver messages between classrooms or the school office.
Robot synchronised swimming can create an exciting spectacle! If you can find a way to video the outcome from above, the resulting resource could be used to explore rotational symmetry and makes a wonderful film for celebrating mathematical work in assembly or to parents. Because the same sequence of instructions must be repeated for each robot there is a real reason for children to write their programme down. The programme can be as simple as a set of arrows, for example: ↑ ↑ → ↓ ← ← written using whole words or sentences, or written in LOGO.
You may want to let children explore their own ways of communicating their sequences before suggesting how to make them clearer or more efficient.
Create a ski slalom for your robot with gates to travel through and time penalties, practising measures, angle and time along the way.
You could try ‘robot curling’. Use more than one robot as ‘stones’ and the children should program their robots to move around a course that involves avoiding the ‘stones’. Include strategies to block – older children may start speculating on the lengths of sides on a right-angled triangle as they try to avoid other stones.
For something that appeals to the dancers in your class, try robot figure skating. Agree on a scoring system that recognises intricate or challenging moves such as a 360 degree turn, skating backwards, zigzags or a figure of eight.
Research and CPD
In September 2010 the National Centre published a report on ICT in conjunction with BECTA, Digital Technologies – a new beginning. The report offers a thorough consideration of the issues relating to ICT and mathematics, including:
“One of the features of interactive use of digital technologies in mathematics classrooms is that:
- learners are engaged and actively involved in the exploration and making sense of mathematics (using digital technologies) through meaningful activities that make connections across all areas of mathematics.”
Reflect on how this could be achieved with the ICT available in your setting. Consider which contexts would encourage children in your class to see the activities in which they participate in mathematics as ‘meaningful’.