One of the criticism of the using robots for teaching problem solving is they are finite resources, there is a risk that some students will dominate the programming in group work. To address this a new feature has been added to the teaching of problem-solving activities. There are now two parallel activities as well as programming a robot; there is a separate programming exercise carried out at the same time which replicates some of the same actions of the robot but this time on screen.
|Figure: Robot pushing a barrel|
These exercises are based around the increasingly popular Greenfoot software (http://www.greenfoot.org/download/) which is free to download and use. This can be put on as many machines as are need enabling more people to have a go at programming.
The exercises initially gets participants to set-up the world, place a robot within it and get the robot to move across the screen. Building on the each previous exercise, the complexity increases and includes challenges (such as in the figure) where the robot pushes a piece of rubbish (in this case a barrel) off the screen.
A series of other activities based around controlling a robot or robots in an environment has been developed.
The nice feature of both the robot and Greenfoot exercises, all the activities are Java based, not a specifically written language- a 'real programming language'. The extra feature that Greenfoot provides is flexibility. The students can download this at home and work on it on their own machines, whereas the robots can't be taken home.
Anecdotally, initial student feedback has been positive, with some students creating solutions to some of their own problems.
Some of the material can be found at: http://www.computing.northampton.ac.uk/~scott/greenfoot_ex/sco1/default.htmGreenfoot Exercise 2
Greenfoot Exercise 3