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Creating a visual learning environment to introduce programming and robotics to children

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Title: Creating a visual learning environment to introduce programming and robotics to children
Author(s): Kinnunen, Petri
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Tietojenkäsittelytieteen osasto
Discipline: Tietojenkäsittelytiede
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2020
Computer programs are common in our daily environment and new robotic devices emerge constantly. One of the key skills for the future is understanding the general purpose as well as intricate details of both concepts. Programs written in conventional programming languages are purely text with syntax cryptic to an unexperienced observer and errors can easily be made in the writing process, which is far from ideal basis to introduce programming or robotics to children on elementary school level. We set to investigate how a visual learning environment could reduce this chasm between the skills of the young and the perceived difficulty of computer technology and with what assortment of technologies and working methods such platforms, both programming and robotic, could be produced in a project with multiple parties. A joint endeavor was started between two research groups in different universities and the education services of a municipality in Finland. In the project, a visual programming environment was created where the users can assemble programs by stacking and manipulating colorful blocks to form a command flow. The set of functions are traditional with calculations, variables and loops, but also include commands to pilot a robotic platform with wheels, arms and a facial expression indicating display. This robot is a product of the project also, based on a commercial design. The venture can be concluded a success. The learning environment and the roving robot were created in the course of the project and architectural design and selected technologies proved sensible. The empirical exploration accumulated knowledge for academic research.

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