Computer-less Coding, Take One

Often times, good ideas sound good until they’re tested. Which is why I test my ideas…on kids. Dun-dun-dun!

Like many, our fair city has a charter school. Unfortunately, our charter school doesn’t have it’s own building. Part are farmed out to the local high school, while others are placed at an elementary school not far from the public library. It’s these lucky 5th through 8th graders that get to be my guinea pigs.

*Disclaimer: When I say test, I just mean practice run. I didn’t actually “test” anything on my young volunteers.

I have this idea for summer school (thanks to these brilliant scientists at Stem In Libraries), but before I commit woman-power to it, I want to make sure it will work. If the idea won’t work on 20 kids, there’s no way it will work for more than a hundred kids.

Behold, my experiment! You can totally picture sparks and lightning back lighting my evil genius grin, you know, if you want.

The Objective

The “programmers” had to code their “robot” to stack cups in a tower. Only simple commands could be given, and each programmer could give instruction. I explained to the kids that their robot would carry out every command literally. This group of 16 kids have already been exposed to coding, but they jumped at the chance to do this activity. When I asked for testers one kid said, “I hear this is the magical place where I can begin my transformation into a guinea pig.” I’m telling you, libraries could be sitcom gold.

What Actually Happened

I learned two things:

  1. I need a sample unit.  Having a programmer say “move cup forward one unit” makes it hard for the robot to judge how far forward to move the cup.
  2. I need a grid. Grids are good.

We also tried a completely silent version, where the programmer had to hold up a command sign for the robot, who executed the direction on each card. In a perfect world, I would have been able to have the programmers code all the robot’s movement at once. But, I only have this group in the library for about 20 minutes, so we condensed the activity a bit.

The kids had great pointers that will help make this small group adventure into a huge coding experiment. My motto now is “When in doubt, ask the kids!” They love helping out, and asking their opinion makes them proud. Hopefully some of these kids will come to summer reading because of this!


Do you ever test ideas on your specific audience? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment, or find me on social media @faythelibrarian!

Look later today for a post about conductive copper adhesive tape! We had a ball with it yesterday afternoon!

Have a great Saturday!

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