A recent paper by Oddie et al (2010) from the Liverpool Hope University, UK look at the use of robotics can facilitate the students’ understanding and application of problem solving and programming. It provides an interesting discussion on the use of robots for teaching programming and some of the issues around teaching problem-solving skills.
They looked at using the Flowcode Buggies and software from Matrix Multimedia which are relatively inexpensive buggies and their graphical nature allows the students to focus more on the problem-solving side, before worrying about the grammar and syntax of a programming language (in their case C).
Oddie O, Hazelwood P , Blakeway S, Whitfield A (2010) "INTRODUCTORY PROBLEM SOLVING AND PROGRAMMING: ROBOTICS VERSUS TRADITIONAL APPROACHES" ITALICS Volume 9 Issue 2
Other sources that might be of interest:
Alice, (2010), Alice Project, http://www.alice.org.
Beaumont C, and Fox C, (2003), Learning Programming: Enhancing Quality through Problem-based Learning LTSN-ICS conference paper, August.
Gandy E G, (2010), The use of LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robots in the Teaching of Introductory Java Programming to Undergraduate Students, ITALICS Volume 9 Issue 1 February 2010.
Lawhead P B, Bland C G, Barnes D J, Duncan M E, Goldweber M, Hollingsworth R G, Schep M, (2003), A Road Map for Teaching Introductory Programming Using LEGO Mindstorms Robots, SIGCSE Bulletin, 35(2): pp 191-200.
Turner S, Hill G, (2007), Robots in Problem-Solving and Programming 8th Annual Conference of the Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences, University of Southampton, 28th – 30th August 2007, pp 82-85.
Turner S and Hill G(2008) "Robots within the Teaching of Problem-Solving" ITALICS vol. 7 No. 1 June 2008 pp 108-119 ISSN 1473-7507
Whitfield A K, Blakeway S, Herterich G E, Beaumont C. (2007), Programming, disciplines and methods adopted at Liverpool Hope University, Italics Vol 6, issue 4, 2007.