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Little children to learn programming

Children are heavy users of technology, but they are also technically illiterate. A little white robot with wheels is about to change that.

By Birgitte Dalgaard, bird@tek.sdu.dk, 31-05-2016

Children spend many hours with an iPad in their laps watching videos on YouTube or playing Subway Surfers. But now children will no longer just be passive users. Two engineering students from SDU have developed a little robot that will teach young children how to programme.

A little white robot on wheels with big glowing eyes moves along over red, greeen, blue and yellow tiles on the table. Each brick contains a code: for instance, Straight ahead! or Turn right!

- Children are heavy users of technology but they can't make technology. They are technically illiterate and just allow themselves to be entertained. Programming is the modern equivalent of being able to read and write. We are in a digital age where it is a key competence, says student Daniel Friis Lindegaard.

Away from the computer
The little robot is programmed as it rolls over the bricks and can then follow the same route again. The children can also change the placement of the bricks, and this codes the robot to take another route.

- It can seem a bit dull, but this is programming at child level. Programming is taken out of the computer and laid out on a table. The physical tiles don't seem strange to the children in the same way that numbers on a screen would. In this very simple way, the children learn the connection between code and robot, demonstrates Daniel Friis Lindegaard.

Along with his fellow student Tommy Schou Lund Otzen, Daniel has developed Kubo Robot. During their studies on the BSc in Engineering (Learning and Experience Technology) programme, they discovered the need for a simple tool where young school children could play their way to learning the language of computers.

Programming in school
The IT industry has long spoken out about how important it is for children to learn the language of the 21st century. And according to the Ministry for Education's Simplified Common Goal which specifies what school children should learn, programming was incorporated into mathematics lessons from 2015.

Kubo Robot directly addresses the current need for a programming tool designed for the classroom. And if everything goes according to plan, the finished product will soon be ready and with an investment of around half a million kroner can be put into production.

- Kubo has been tested at Odense Friskole and we have had a lot of positive feedback. We also had a lot of positive feedback when we attended different exhibitions. Teachers have been really enthusiastic about our robot because they don't have a simple programming tool for very young children that fits into ordinary teaching, explains Daniel Friis Lindegaard, and continues:

- We already have a lot of ideas for how we can further develop Kubo Robot. There is a wealth of potential for combining learning, play and programming. For instance, we could put music into the bricks, so the children could programme a melody. Or they could programme the robot to work out complicated sums. The only limit is imagination.

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