programming with bee-bot
Most of our children are growing up with an intimate understanding of technology. We let our kids play on our tablets, smartphones and computers, but it’s important to realize that a child’s exposure to technology doesn’t always have to be just “play.” There’s a wide variety of technological apps, toys, and games that not only provide learning through play, but also expose children to skills that can jump-start their future tech-y careers.

In recent years, coding and programming toys have become widely talked about by parents and educators who are invested in providing children the building blocks necessary to grasp the underlying concepts of coding. Robotic toys have emerged as great tools which expose children to basic programming languages that help to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as creativity. But if we want to encourage our children to get into this world, we need to understand it ourselves. 

What is coding and programming? And is there a difference?

There’s a distinct ideological and social split in the computer science community on exactly how to define the terms and what the differences actually are. At their most basic, coding and programming both deal with giving instructions to a computer in language that the computer understands in order to accomplish a goal. Suffice to say that both terms involve actually writing the code for a program. Coding is just that – taking the tools available and writing with them in mind. Programming is figuring out what, exactly, is necessary to reach a goal, and then building the solution from the ground up.  

To understand the two terms in the context of robotic toys, first we must make a distinction between coding robots and programmable robots and dig deeper into what each approach would mean for kids learning to code:

Coding would mean giving instructions to the robot based on its predetermined instruction set. An example of a coding robot would be the Bee-Bot Programmable Floor Robot – you input the command sequence through the arrow keys on the toy’s back and press the Go button to have the robot execute the commands. You have the 4 directions that the robot understands, and the child must work within these set of instructions to get the robot to do what they want. While a younger child will be able to learn a lot even with these limitations, an older learner will probably look for more variety. The Blue-bot, Pro-bot and Constructa-bot introduce more advanced triggers and commands for learning progression.

Programming, on the other hand, would mean figuring out to how read input data and deliver output data, formulating the logic that the program uses, and deciding the method by which the program (and by extension the robot) will use to complete its tasks.  Hand-in-hand with this is testing the program, fixing errors, and, if necessary, redesigning and rewriting parts of the program. A good example of this would be Initio, the Raspberry Pi Robot. Initio comes with a suite of sensors and motors which can be monitored and controlled, as well as expanded – the Raspberry Pi Camera Module can be added on to allow Initio to take still pictures or record video.  This kind of educational robot kit allows for maximum creativity and flexibility – the Python and Scratch programming languages Initio can be used with are simple, but powerful enough that almost any idea the kids have can be implemented.

We can see that there’s a clear progression – starting with basic coding robots and eventually moving towards programmable robots. Giving kids something simple to work with that sparks their imaginations will get them hooked and prepare them for more complex apps, toys, and games available once they’ve gotten their feet wet.

Programming at its core is thinking about problems and the steps to take to resolve them. This kind of procedural literacy – understanding the “why’s” and “how’s” of a system – is useful no matter where a child’s interests eventually lead them, even if it’s not strictly tech-related. The bottom line is this: teaching coding for kids using involves figuring out what level of complexity they are ready to tackle, and finding the proper educational toy can make a big difference in the effectiveness of instruction and in keeping them interested and invested.

Canadian Classroom has over 18 years of experience in providing the latest in educational toys and tools to education and home sectors. If you would like more information or advice on the best coding or programming toy for your child or school, just send us a message and we would be happy to assist you.

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 beebot

initio robot