Robot Obstacle Course

I’ve been meeting so many new people on Instagram lately. Annamarie Carlson is one of them! When I saw her post about a robot obstacle course, I knew it was something to blog about. So today, Annamarie has written all about how she runs her robot obstacle course for kids ages 8 – 12. Take it away, Annamarie!

At my library, combining technology and kids always results in a program win. Since receiving a state LSTA grant in 2017, I’ve run monthly introductory technology programs for ages 8-12 using Dash and Dot robots, SPRK+ robots, 3Doodlers, green screens, Bloxels, Google Cardboard, Makey Makeys, and more. These programs provide school-age kids with an opportunity to learn about something new, delve into their creative interests, and have some hands-on time with technology they may not otherwise be able to access. One of my favorite programs in my technology series is Robot Obstacle Courses, which engages attendees in technology and engineering concepts.

Supplies Needed

This program can be adapted to work with whatever robots your library has available. I used four Dash robots (by Wonder Workshop) and four SPRK+ robots (by Sphero) because those are the robots my library owns. Any robot that has a free drive or simple coding feature would work well for this program.

Materials List:

  • Space (the more room kids have to build in, the more elaborate obstacle courses can become)
  • Masking Tape
  • Robots (enough to allow for groups no larger than 2-3 people)
  • Obstacle Course Building Supplies
  • Countdown Timer

How It Worked

At Robot Obstacle Courses, 16 kids were divided into groups of 2-3, assigned a taped off area of the room, and given just 10 minutes to create any kind of obstacle course with just the materials available in their space. Each group had access to the robot that would be navigating their course, but obstacle course creators could not test out their own course during their 10-minute building time.

After 10 minutes, it was hands-off the obstacle course materials. Each group of students moved to a new station and tested a different group’s course. I distributed iPads with the appropriate robot app to each group, and they had 10 minutes to test this new course and make tweaks (or massive repairs) as needed. By having the kids test out and improve another group’s course, the attitude in the room was much more teamwork-focused than competitive.

Groups rotated through each created obstacle course, receiving shorter adjustment and testing times as they went. About 20 minutes later, kids returned to their original group and were able to see what their original course had become and how well it had worked.

Since I was using two different robots (Dash and SPRK+), groups then demolished their original obstacle course before swapping halves of the room to try again with the other robot.

Outcome

This program focused on engineering and teamwork skills over coding skills. Due to the limited time frame and that I used two different robots to accommodate more participants, most groups free drove the robots through the obstacle courses instead of coding the robots to complete each course. I explained some of the basics of block-based coding during the program for my more experienced program participants, but by not requiring coding knowledge, I was able to accommodate many new participants to this program who had not used a robot before.

Kids left the program talking about angles, speed, and support structures, plus ideas for how they could combine multiple courses into one giant course at a future event. While dragging all the obstacle course supplies back to our storage area wasn’t my favorite activity, this program was a ton of fun and well-loved by our program attendees.

About Annamarie Carlson

Annamarie Carlson is a Youth Librarian at Westerville Public Library in Westerville, Ohio. She focuses on technology programs for ages 8-12, literacy and play programs for ages 0-2, and large-scale events such as the Wizards & Wands Festival that brought 2300 visitors to her library. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, please reach out at acarlson@westervillelibrary.org. Annamarie can also be found on Instagram at 2annamarie.carlson or via her website at www.annamariecarlson.com.

Have you ever done a robot obstacle course at your library? Any questions for Annamarie about this program? Leave a comment below!

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