Robotics in the Library – Webinar Wrap Up

Edit 1/28: I replaced the link below with the original “register” link for SLJ and you should be able to register and watch the webinar!

Today I presented my thoughts on integrating robotics into library programming for a webinar presented by SLJ and ISTE.  You may still be able to register and watch the session starting tomorrow.  Here are the slides I made in Canva for the session:

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To be honest, I’ve often said, “My students don’t do”full” robotic projects.” Then when I show other educators what my makers are doing in the library, they reply, “That’s a lot of robotics!”

So I think the term may need rebranding.

This conversation brings me back to this particular Twitter chat from the summer, where I said, “Oh we don’t really do that.” Then proceeded to show like 40 different robotic-type projects my students made…..

Robotics is not necessarily a team of afterschool students building a bot component by component and then battling in an arena (think Robot wars.)

Instead, I think it’s important to look at what we mean when we say “robot.” In 123 Robotics Experiments for the Evil Genius the first section tackles the ever changing definition of “Robots.” Here are some consistencies:

  • it is a mechanical device
  • it is programmable
  • it is a machine that is mobile
  • it is sensory
  • it sometimes mimics human behavior

Once you put it like that, then yes, my students at Lamar last year did many robotics projects with littleBits, Hummingbird robot kits, and of course even made their own simple machine vibro-bots.

Following this broad definition of robotics, I think working with pre-built robots like Sphero and Dash not only count as robotics they focus on one of the most important aspects – programming.

I like using these pre-built robots to teach my students the literacy of coding. I think it’s important that kids learn the language of coding because coding builds our apps, our webpages, and the many, many microcontrollers hidden in our electronic gadgets.

But another thing I love about robots are the open-ended challenges. Last week, I had BLAST students in for a design challenge with Sphero. The students were tasked with creating an obstacle course and then had to attempt programming Sphero to drive through their course. On top of that, we decided to make the entire exercise collaborative BETWEEN classes. So the first class designed the basic course, and the next class came and started adding dimension with cardboard and other recyclables. Some students even used littleBits to make “smart” obstacles.

Here is the beginning of the designing and thinking for this group project….

Blast Ss are preparing #programming courses for @gosphero. Next block will add to designs. #kidscancode #coding #library #makerspace

A photo posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

The next class of students really wanted to keep using the table (lower right picture in the above Instagram) as the starting base, but wanted a more secure ramp for Sphero. They built this, but it was too fast:

Too much of an inclined plane for this @gosphero obstacle course. How will these Ss improve the design? #library #makerspace

A video posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

The last class wanted to fix the speed and still get Sphero to jump out of this cardboard tube, but they were having a problem with Sphero landing “safely.”

“J” was in this group and he said wanted to build something to “swing” Sphero down to safety. Just as a sidebar, “J” is in the library makerspace everyday. He comes quite often and helps others build things, but I hadn’t seen him take charge and build his own invention until he was introduced to this challenge.

He spent about 45 minutes working on an idea with K’NEX and I have to say, this 1 minute video below might’ve made my whole year.  In fact, here is my reaction I posted on Facebook later in the evening:

“This. So much THIS. This is why having a class come in and attempt to solve a problem or complete a design challenge is AWESOME. The kid who made this Rube Goldberg-like invention out of K’NEX, comes in all the time and “messes around in the makerspace.” Today, the problem of building an obstacle course for Sphero, challenged him to think outside of his normal making routine. He decided to make a “swing” so that Sphero could safely come out of this crazy ramp. He spent his entire lunch working on it. AND IT IS AWESOME and simple and it works. Unfortunately, I did not capture the video footage of him shouting, “Yes! YES! I did it! I made a contraption and it works! After so many fails!”


This is where we can really start talking about the impact of robotics and makerspaces at school. How does this type of learning engage students? How does it help them learn to problem solve? How does it help them become innovators?

Without the problem created by the other students of incorporating this table base and ramp into his group’s design, would “J” still have made this invention?

Plus, the next day, he came to the library early and showed his other friends “his invention.” He practiced the “blind driving” exercise his teacher assigned because he wanted to be the best at communicating and driving his own course. Then all of his friends (who are not in the BLAST class) all took turns driving the course BEFORE SCHOOL EVEN STARTED!

I shared this story during the webinar and I loved Sharon Thompson’s take on it. She spoke about “J” wanting to persevere and complete this project, even though his designs kept “failing.” She spoke about the secret power robotics and coding possess by teaching our students to persevere. Her idea is that students do not get frustrated when they write the wrong line of code and get an error message. When they build a robot that fails they do not take it personal. It isn’t the same as a “red mark” on a paper. I tend to agree. Plus, I love seeing this group of kids excited about learning and excited about thinking! (I could write about this all day, but I’ve got to save some of it for the ABC-Clio book the #superlibrarianhubs, Diana Rendina, and I are working on!)

Links pertinent to my presentation:

Early Childhood- Middle Grade Robots

Upper Elementary to Middle School

Middle school to High School

Other Maker Resources

Hour of Code with Makey Makey

I’m at a new school and was unsure of how to get our high school students into the #HourofCode activities since what I usually did in the past ( ) is geared toward younger students.

Lucky for me, I have a teacher willing to try new things with his BLAST class. BLAST is a lot like AVID, the students are paired with mentors and the class is geared toward teamwork and problem-solving.

They’ve already been in the library for programming Sphero, so I thought it would be fun to program REAL THINGS like marshmallows and bananas. What better to do that with than Makey Makey ? Mr. S wanted the students to work together to complete some challenges and so the plan was to rotate from the Makey Makey station to the littleBits Design Challenge, and our brushbot challenge, but students ended up staying focused on completing one challenge in this class period. (Which means I need to have them back for more MAKING! )

#littlebits problem solving challenge and #makeymakey challenge for #hourofcode! #celebrateMonday #librariesofinstagram

A video posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

This summer I had the privilege of writing lesson plans for Makey Makey, so I was excited to try the ELA Logic Puzzle Lesson with an active class. (I taught it at the public library this summer, but not at school yet!)

I love how simple this lesson seems to be on the surface, until the kids have to actually design the logic sequence.  Students have to use real problem solving skills to make the game play logistical AND they learn coding terms all while making what appears to be a pretty simple game.

The last class giggled a lot, but really got into making shapes with the pen tool and recording sounds for the objects to make when you answered riddles correctly. I wish we had more time to make these games even more complex!

These girls really wanted to use the pen tool in #scratch during our #makeymakey #hourofcode challenge ! #library #makerspace

A video posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

Teaching these classes was awesome! I hope to entice more teachers into incorporating coding into their curriculum, but for the rest of the week, I’ve decided on some passive programming incorporating a lot of things we already do in our library makerspace for our regular makers.

Terminal Quest for #kano and #hourofcode ! #raspberrypi

A photo posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

Students have the option to:

  • Program Sphero or Ollie using the SPRK app and navigate these bots through a cardboard maze.
  • I just downloaded the Kano OS ( THANK YOU OPEN SOURCE!) to our library Raspberry Pi and I LOVE IT! So students can come in and learn to code by creating their own version of Pong, Snake, and Minecraft. Or they can code their own art, or play the text-based adventure Terminal Quest.
  • Creating any game for Makey Makey.
  • Complete a tutorial on Code Academy.
  • Program our Sparkfun Redbot using

So will they bite? Will high school students really come in and learn to code? A few visited while I was teaching BLAST and played with Kano and  joined our Makey Makey fun. Others have already started asking for more books on programming languages. (Have any you’d recommend?) I hope to see even more students curious about coding this week (even though I’ll be teaching research classes during lunches.)

Can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds!

Bonus: here is a remixable flyer in Canva of our activities if you want to remix it and use it!

Hour of Code Challenge (1)

Note this is a watermarked draft, so change the background image, or pay the good folks at Canva to remove the watermark!)