Robots And Robotics – A Beginner’s Guide: A STEM Workshop For Primary Schools

Overview: In this workshop, the students will learn about robots and other autonomous technologies which are increasingly becoming a part of modern life. This will include how they are used, how they are designed and built, and how they are programmed to do specific tasks. The students will then build and program a very simple robotic device based on a Roman ballista. Duration: Between one and one and a half hours.

Intended Learning Outcome: This workshop will introduce children to all aspects of robotics, including design and construction, as well as providing a practical introduction to coding and programming

STEM Areas Covered: This workshop will primarily cover engineering and technical design, but it will also provide an introduction to the concepts of programming and coding.

What Does This Workshop Involve? This workshop is based around the Arduino open source engineering project. This project allows low-cost entry into areas such as robotics, automation, programming and coding. In the workshop, the students will first be provided with a brief introduction to robots and robotics, including what they are, their history and their role in everyday life. They will be asked to draw what they think of when they hear the word robot. These drawings will then be used as the basis for a discussion of what most robots actually look like and how robots are designed for everyday tasks. There will then be a demonstration using a mini-industrial robot arm, which will, in turn, lead on to a discussion of how robots are programmed to do specific tasks.

After this introduction, the children will then be divided into groups of four and each group will build their own robotic device. This robotic device is designed to fire dried peas at a target set a few feet away, and is based on an ancient Roman weapon called a ballista. These robots will be built from a specifically designed kit which is very easy for children to assemble (it has been trialled on children as young as six), and they will be provided with detailed instructions on how to assemble them. Once the device has been completed, the students will be asked to help create the code that will be used to arm and fire the ballista. At this stage, the completed device will be used to play a real-world version of the popular Angry Birds computer game.

Finally, while still in their groups, the children will be asked to think about how they could improve the basic design of the robot they have built to allow it to do things like aim more accurately, automatically reload itself and move around. This will encourage the children to think about robot design and construction, and how they can create robots for themselves.

What Type Of Space Is Required For This Workshop? This workshop can be conducted in any standard classroom space.

How Long Will This Workshop Last? This workshop will last between one and one and a half hours, and can be adapted to fit available time slots. Our preferred time to run this workshop is between mid-morning and lunchtime as this gives children time to settle into the school day, but they are still alert enough to listen to instructions and make the most of the experience.

Is This Workshop Safe? This workshop is as safe as any practical workshop can be. All demonstration robots that will be used in the workshop are powered either by a small nine volt battery (of the type commonly used in smoke alarms), or by a computer USB port. The kit used to build the robotic ballista requires only the use of adhesive tape to put it together and all wiring is of the simply plug-and-play variety common to projects using Arduino circuit boards. Safety glasses will be provided for when they are firing peas.

What Equipment Is Required? Other than providing a suitable space to carry out this workshop, there is no need to provide any additional equipment, and all materials can be supplied by us.

What Age Of Children Can Participate In This Workshop? This workshop is designed for children in P6 to P7.

How Many Children Can Be Accommodated? This workshop is designed to be carried out with a maximum of thirty two children (divided into eight groups of four) at any one time. However,  this upper limit is flexible and the workshop can be repeated several times in succession to accommodate a greater number of children from the same school.

How Much Will This Workshop Cost? This workshop costs £200 for up to thirty-two children (which would equate to a cost of £6.25 per child). If the workshop is repeated on the same day to accommodate more children, each additional repeat would cost an additional £50.

Who Will Run The Workshop? The workshop will be run by Dr Colin D. MacLeod. He has worked as a research scientist for over twenty years, as well as working as an educationalist, lecturer and street entertainer. He is a strong advocate of introducing children to the scientific method, critical thinking, ‘trial and error’ learning and STEM subjects as early as possible in their education. He is also the founder of How To Raise A Happy Genius, and an author of books for both adults and children (under the psuedonym of Colin M. Drysdale). He is also PVG-registered and has an up-to-date PVG certificate.

How Can I Book This Workshop? This workshop can be booked by emailing colin@howtoraiseahappygenius.com. This email address can also be used to request further information, ask questions or discuss any special requirements. Please use the subject line Robots Workshop Enquiry in any such emails to help us identify them and respond as quickly as possible.