Teaching Young Kids to Code with Mini Robots

A traveling college workshop is teaching kids (and their adults) to program with robots in Illinois. Rock Valley College's "Learn Coding with Robots" workshop teaches attendees how to use colored lines and drag-and-drop coding to control inch-high robots named Bit, from Ozobot. When the participants are done, they get to take the robots home.

Each month the workshop takes place in a community setting, including a local mall.

The class is being taught by Chuck Konkol, self-described "Professor Geek" and a member of the college faculty in computer information systems. As he told a local news program, "By 2030, 65 percent of all jobs in the world will have some type of automated piece that people that work there are going to have to learn how to program."

Using the little robot, he said, helps the students learn how to "control things with code logically." It also shows them that the robot is only going to do "what you tell it to do like a computer. It doesn't do anything you don't tell it to do."

The Ozobot can be programmed in two ways: through OzoBlockly, a version of Google's Blockly for the little robots, or with color codes, which are made with markers on paper. The company sells educator sets for the classroom. A starter set to help the educator learn how to use the robot is $99; a classroom set with 18 Evo robots is $1,800. The company makes its STEAM lessons freely available.

Tuition for the coding class is being covered by a grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

The college also has been approved as an official "Girls Who Code" club location. The after-school program helps girls in grades 6-12 use computer science in tackling community challenges.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.