In Oslo, Norway there's two major annual software conferences (JavaZone & NDC) and our Hackerspace tries to both contribute and be visible at both. For this edition of JavaZone, they did a full day for Kids the day before the event. My friend Erik and I hosted a CannyBot workshop in parallell with three other tracks organised by the local CodeClubs. This is a summary of our experiences.
While planning the workshop, we expected to run into some problems, but we got good support from Wayne from Cannybots here on the forum. We went into this knowing that things were in a Beta state, so we were not too disappointed when we realised that the Scratch-like CannyBlocks were not finished quite yet. I'm sure that'll turn out fine with time, but for now we had to use the Arduino tool. If we knew this up front, we would probably have raised the age requirement for the workshop up from 8 to maybe 10 or 12.
We planned fairly well ahead with code examples and a thirty something page slide deck. All the code examples we made can be found in our Github repo as well as a PowerPoint version of the slides.
How did it turn out?
We had 11 kids aged 8 to 10 attending. None of them had any programming experience.
We started the workshop with both kids and parents present. The parents were told to take a coffee break until the kids had built their CannyBots. We had brought screwdrivers, pliers and a knife. We got to use it all.
Lesson learned: We had 4 screwdrivers for 11 kids. We should have brought more tools.
The kids absolutely loved putting the bots together. We had pre-printed lots of CannyBot casings in different colors. The kids mixed, matched and added stickers to customise. After building, we compared the connections to the two bots that we pre-built ourself. It seems like it's impossible to kill a CannyBot by connecting things wrong, but just to be sure we gave the kids the batteries AFTER we had checked each robot.
Lesson learned: Letting the kids build the robots all for themselves without adults "helping" is crucial. Since it' was "their" robot, they really wanted it to come alive and that helped them get through stuff when we later ran into installation issues.
All had been told upfront that they had to bring with them:
- a Windows based computer
- a parent that could help with the computer if they got trouble
Having the parents there proved crucial as many parents had brought with them locked-down computers from work that made it impossible to install the driver software. Out of 11 computers, 4 had this problem. In addition, there was a parent that used VM Ware on a Mac and he had issues getting the virtualisation to see the USB units.
Lesson learned: don't just say "A windows computer is required". Say that a Windows computer with Admin login is required.
Getting only 6 of 11 machines up and running proved to be our biggest speed-bump. After trying to solve the problem for 30 minutes+, we just cut through and asked kids to gather around in pairs around the machines that worked.
Our original plan was to make a "master" on some memory sticks and copy this to each machine. We prepared a new "BareBones" example that had the required includes, but apart from that we used the pre-packaged Arduino IDE.
Lesson learned: It takes quite a bit of time to copy 650Mb from two memory sticks onto 11 machines. We should have asked the parents to do this while their kids built the robots.
All of a sudden, the software and driver installation issues had stolen 1/3rd of our available time. Both kids and parents started to get restless and felt like things failed.
Lesson learned: 3 hours is not much time. 1 hr to build, 1+ hr to setup, 1- hr to learn.
The kids only had time to do some simple LED blinking by themselves before we capped things off with letting them all program their robots with a super-simple line follower I wrote and run the robots on the tracks with this. This completely took off! The kids started racing each other and the sound level became so loud that parents from all the other workshops dropped in to see what the fuzz was about.
Lesson learned: always have something up your sleeve that you know will work. It'll save the day.
All in all we're very happy with how it turned out, though we had never anticipated that setting up could steal that much of the time. The kids only got a VERY brief intro to coding due to this, so asking parents to pre-install is crucial.
I'll post some pictures and a video here once we've cleared that with the parents of the kids.
Hi, I'm Erik!
As Jensa said, we had some bumps on the road, but the workshop was still a lot of fun. And the kids loved playing with the bots.
Here's some more pictures from the event.
Good luck with the Kickstarter!
Thanks @drerik the workshop looks absolutely fab. Well done you guys!
looks fab, thanks @drerik