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Ozobots: BIG Learning with Tiny Robots


Exploring Coding with Ozobots

I’m completely sold on the idea that kids should be coding in schools. Learning how to program isn’t about mastering computer science; it’s about breaking down problems and empowering kids to create something of their own design from scratch. Coding is both a new literacy skill and a novel form of creative expression. There are many ways to introduce coding to kids. Employing robots as part of an introduction to coding increases engagement. It also provides kids with a tangible interface that bridges the physical and digital world. Ozobots are one of the many kid-friendly robots on the market.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Lynnfield Cultural Council, students at Lynnfield Middle School are now exploring robotics and coding with Ozobots. These pint-sized robots measure only an inch tall and move about on tiny wheels. One of the unique things about them is that Ozobots can be programmed two different ways.

Coding with Color Codes

Students coding Ozobot robots using flash codes on iPad

Ozobots have color sensors which recognize color patterns students draw on paper with markers to control the actions of the robot.  The Ozobot will follow a solid black line but when students add short color sequences that match any of the “color code” patterns, the behavior of the robot changes in response. In addition to paper and markers, students can also use “Flash Codes” in conjunction with a digital screen (see photo above).

Block-Based Coding with Ozoblockly

Ozoblockly block-based programming platform for Ozobot robotsOzobots can also be programmed using Ozoblockly on a computer or tablet. Ozoblockly is a kid-friendly, drag and drop programming environment that uses blocks that can be stacked to control the movement of the Ozobot. The Ozoblockly interface is very similar to that of Scratch. One benefit of Ozoblockly over other platforms is that users can choose a level (novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced, master).

Selecting the level will change the toolbox. For example, with a “Novice” toolbox, all blocks are large and icon-based, so they are appropriate for pre-readers. Changing the skill level in Ozoblockly from beginner to intermediate results in an increase in the number and complexity of the blocks available. This is a great feature because it means kids can have a “just right” fit menu of blocks to choose from. This will minimize the chances of students becoming overwhelmed or distracted by blocks they are not yet ready to use. Kids can even click on a “Java Script Preview” to see what is under the hood of their coding blocks.

Student uploading program created in Ozoblockly to Ozobot robot

Once kids create their Ozoblockly program, it is uploaded by placing the Ozobot on the computer screen or tablet so that the optical sensors can read the “Flash Codes”. Students can place the bot on any surface and press a button to activate the program.

Getting Started with Ozobots

In Lynnfield, we’re just starting out with our new Ozobots, so we’ve been taking advantage of the Lesson Library that is available on the company’s website. There are “Basic Training” lessons both for using markers with color codes or using Ozoblockly which are great starting points. Teachers have shared a number of different activities using Ozobots which can be found under Featured Educator Lessons. These tiny robots are a perfect addition to our the new Middle School Maker Space but I can see already that they will also be suitable for use in our elementary school. I’ll be looking for ways to incorporate these into lessons at the elementary and middle schools and will be sure to share those experiences out!

2 comments

  1. Just wondering how Ozobots compare to Sphero. What do you see as the pros and cons of each?

    Thanks

    • Liz-
      In my experience, Ozobots are a good fit for students in grades 2-8 and offer a flexible programming environment that is easier for younger students to navigate. With Ozoblockly, you can select the experience level at the top of the coding toolbox which limits what functions are available so it’s easier to differentiate for pre-readers and younger learners. Ozobots also work with markers, but the color coding can be a bit finicky. Ozobots are a great, low cost option for schools and expose students to the idea that sensors can be used to transmit information to control a robot.
      Sphero is unique in that it offers built in sensors making it a powerful learning tool for secondary level students engaged in science labs, for example. Spheros are also incredibly durable so they can be used at a wider range of grade levels, including with elementary students. Sphero can be remote controlled but is most exciting when used with their programming interface, Lightning Lab which can be used on Chromebooks or tablets. For new, younger learners, there are also a range of Apps for coding with Sphero, such as Tickle, that are more accessible for those new to coding. Here is a recent guest post about Sphero being used in the middle school classroom: https://teachingforward.net/teaching-sphero-physics/
      Like lots of technology tools, there is no single, perfect fit for all applications or grade levels, which is why many schools have multiple robots for student use! Hope this information is helpful as you try to determine the best choice for you and your students.

      -Jenn

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