Automating Robotic Arms

Maplin produce a building kit for a 5 motor robotic arm.  It is brilliant and takes about 3 hours to construct.

It costs £29.99 which is a snip for this level of automation.  The five stage motors are controlled by a simple windows interface which allows you to explore its movement:

What is really cool is connecting this to Scratch and getting a full program of movement to be created.  This is done by the following steps

1. Install Alan Bells brilliant python interface on your Linux computer.

2. Then program Scratch to control the arm using broadcast commands.

My children were able to create a program to pick up objects and fill a container.  Here is a simple Video of Alan’s first attempt:

Three cheers to Alan Bell!!!

Thymio II

I was really interested when I stumbled across this robot. This floor robot has the greatest functionality of all floor robots with an extension programming language which makes it suitable for KS5 work.  I think this should be explored as a KS3 to KS4 programming challenge.

Here is the release video:

This shows you something of the visual programming environment:

However it does not do the system justice as a better description can be found on this blog

check this reblog

The Thymio II comes from those robot geniuses at EPFL Lausanne in Switzerland. It’s an educational robot designed from the ground up to be easy and fun to mess with for people with very limited (or no) previous experience in robotics. It’s also designed from the ground up to be cheap, at just about $100 USD. How is this possible, you ask? Apparently, there’s pretty much no profit margin or distribution cost, and all you’re paying for is the hardware and for some people to put it together for you into a working robot. Not too shabby. And this robot comes with a bunch of sensors and other goodies:

Yes, there’s a trailer hook. So you can stop worrying about that. And those “mechanic fixation” points are Lego compatible. To program Thymio II, you can use a nifty graphical interface, or a simple programming language called Aseba that’s similar to Matlab. And oh hey did we mention that this thing is open source from source code to hardware? ‘Cause it is.

Seriously, $100 seems very cheap for a platform like this. It’s cheap enough that a $1,000 grant could outfit an entire classroom with robots that are colorful, versatile, fun, and can be tackled with a GUI before graduating to writing code. There’s lots more info along with examples of what Thymio II can do in a wiki that you can check out here, and you can adopt one of your own at the link below.

Using IO Boards for Scratch

Scratch is just great for teaching programming right up to about 14 years old.

The normal game projects can be extended by using interface boards.  The first board I like is the Pico board which can be shown in this video:

These can be obtained online from

S4A is a Scratch modification that supports simple programming of the Arduino open source hardware platform. It provides new blocks for managing sensors and actuators connected to Arduino. There is also a sensor report board similar to the PicoBoard.

It has been created to attract people to the programming world. The goal is also to provide a high level interface to Arduino programmers with functionalities such as interacting with a set of boards through user events.



The best guys for Arduino and Scratch are

inGenious competition – bringing STEM to life

A new competition has been launched to inspire the most creative teaching minds to translate their passion for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects into exciting classroom experiences.

The inGenious competition – co-ordinated in the UK by Futurelab at NFER – calls for all teachers in Europe to help their pupils better see the link between their passions, the set of skills which make them possible, and the education paths leading to those skills.

Teachers are invited to unleash their creativity to bring real-life STEM into learning in the next school year; through thought-provoking lessons and activities, industry visits, or establishing larger partnerships with local stakeholders such as SMEs, industry experts, authorities and associations. The aim is to help expose pupils to STEM workplace scenarios, break down common stereotypes, and create a pool of teaching resources focused on STEM careers to share with colleagues all over Europe.

The inGenious competition is open to all teachers at primary and secondary school level. Applications are open until 28 February 2014, and 30 finalists will be invited to attend the inGenious European Award Ceremony in Brussels later in the year.

For more information and to register your interest, click here.

Barefoot Computing project: teacher secondments

The Barefoot Computing project aims to equip primary school teachers with the basic knowledge and confidence needed to begin the journey towards becoming an excellent computing teacher. It is funded by DfE and run in partnership by CAS and BCS.

The project is recruiting 2.5 FTE teachers to be seconded onto the project during the period April 1st 2014 to April 1st 2015.
These jobs are available to primary or secondary teachers currently in post, teachers who are looking for a career break, or not currently teaching due to a career break that has been less than or equal to two years. In cases where applicants are not currently in post, employment would be through fix term contracts.

The purpose of the posts is to develop cross-curricular, computer science exemplification teaching resources for primary schools. The development work will be directed by primary curricular experts working for the project and overseen by the project steering committee. These exemplifications will illustrate how teaching computer science can enhance progression in other subjects in the primary curriculum (such as literacy, art, maths, and history, for example). They will be designed so they can also be used as self-study guides for primary teachers who do not have suitable prior knowledge and have little spare time. The idea is that a teacher can successfully use them in the classroom whilst concurrently studying them to enhance their own subject knowledge.

The deadline for applications is 17 January 2014. For more information, click here.


New Expert Body on Computing Education Established

The UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE) will provide an independent and unified voice to advise UK government and other agencies on issues relating to computing education.

UKForCE is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and will provide advice on the curriculum, qualifications and assessment and the supply and training of computing teachers.

The expert body has been established in response to the recommendation from the Royal Society – Royal Academy of Engineering report Shutdown or restart: the way forward for computing in UK schools published in 2012, which had as a key recommendation the formation of a UK forum for the UK’s computing bodies.

UKForCE brings together representatives from across the communities of education, computer science, digital media, IT, engineering and telecommunications. The body will be independent of government and awarding organisations and will work towards improving computing education across all education sectors of the UK.

For more information, click here.

Scratch interfacing with LEGO WEDO

The sensors and motor in scatch can all be driven by scratch programming.

This raises the opportunity for additional level of programming offered by the base kit.


Additional steps include:

1. Having the robot effect a program on the screen

2. Using the percentage factors in Scatch

3. Use the inequality functions to effect the robot

4. Get the motor to turn a certain number of degrees