Whenever I introduce a new tool in computing lessons I look for two key features:
1. Does it compliment learning which has already taken place?
2. Is it accessible to be used beyond the four walls of the school?
Having used Bee-bot extensively with years one and two for the last couple of years, I’ve been looking for something to develop programming skills further before moving on to the less structured environment of Scratch Jr. I have in the past gone straight from one to the other, however, with Bee-bot (whether it’s on the app or a physical Bee-bot) you don’t actually get to see the complete algorithm, unless it’s recorded whilst it’s being inputted.
Therefore, I was looking for a tool which you can use to program movement to a specific goal and see the complete algorithm at the end of it. In KS2 I’ve used the brilliant Lightbot from code.org, but this is a little advanced for most of KS1.
The best solution I’ve found so far is A.L.E.X. It’s a robot based game, which seems to appeal to both boys and girls, with some great graphics and nice sound effects. The concept is very similar to Bee-bot, but with a couple of key differences. Firstly, instructions have to be input in one go, rather than one step at a time and secondly the algorithm is displayed in it’s complete form. This means there is a greater reliance on problem solving skills and you can’t use a trial and error approach.
I am also considering using it in years three and four. In addition to completing the levels in the game, there is also an option to design your own levels. This could work well as a paired activity where each child designs a level and challenges their partner to try it out.
Does it compliment learning which has already taken place? Definitely, in that it helps re-enforce what an algorithm is and encourages children to develop their computational thinking. Is it accessible? Again, a big yes – there is a free version with 25 levels on both the App Store and Google Play (an Android version is very important – the cost barrier of iPads means the vast majority of tablets in most children’s homes are Android based) and there is a paid version with additional features available for only £0.79 on both platforms. As a bonus, the free version is ad free.