Can You Program a Robot?

Science Recipes: Program a Robot

How do robots perform tasks? Do they think about what they want to do and do it? No! Robots may seem smart, but they can't do anything without a specific set of instructions to follow, called a program. In this activity, you'll practice coding, or writing a program, for a robot--without using any actual robots! How many tasks can you get your "robot" to do with your coding?

Age: 5-14 years
Time: 25-35 minutes
Topics: Robots, Code, Programming

What You Need: 

  • Two or more people
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Blindfold or something to cover eyes (optional)

What To Do:

1. Choose one person to be the "robot". Everyone else will be the robot programmers. Tip: Start with an adult or older kid playing the “robot” for the first round.

2. Ask the “robot” to leave the room so they don’t know what the programmers are planning.

3. Decide on a task to instruct the robot to do. Tip: Start with a simple task first. For example:- Getting up from a chair and pushing it in under a desk or table.- Walking through a door and closing it behind you.- Drawing a simple house shape on paper.

4. Write down each action or movement the robot must do to complete the task. This step-by-step list of instructions is your robot’s program. Be as specific as possible! Remember, robots can't think on their own, so every instruction must be very detailed. Tip: Don't spend too long trying to get it right on the first try. You can always modify and try again.

Step 4 adaptation for diverse learners: instead of writing your instructions try drawing a picture or verbally explaining your instructions to your robot.

5. Bring the “robot” back into the room. Remind them to do only exactly what is said to them. For example, if the programmer reads, "draw a square", the robot shouldn’t move unless the programmer first told them to "pick up a pencil" and "put the tip of the pencil on the paper."

6. Read each line of instructions to the robot, one at a time, and see how successful the program is.

7. If your program doesn’t work as planned, re-write your program code by adding or changing instructions and try it again. It often takes many tries for code to be written correctly and programmers do a lot of testing during the coding process.

8. Talk about this activity together with questions like this: -How many steps did you need to communicate a simple task? -What was harder than you expected? -Was there an action that was simpler than you expected? -What was surprising to you? -What would you like to try again?

9. Try coding other tasks and take turns being the “robot” and the programmers.

10. For a more challenging task, have the "robot" close their eyes or use a blindfold. What kinds of instructions will you need to add into your code if the robot cannot see?

What's Happening:

Robots need instructions from a programmer in order to perform a task. The robot’s program must give very specific instructions for each step of the process, because the robot cannot decide or think for itself. Robot programmers need to think very carefully about what they want their robot to do and make sure every detail is written into the code!