Monday, 29 November 2010

Robots and Graphical Programming in Software Education

Two members of the computing division  presented a paper "Innovative use of Robots and Graphical Programming in Software Education " at  6th China Europe International Symposium on Software Industry Oriented Education (CEISIE2010) Northwestern Polytechnical University, Xi'an China.

Abstract: Problem solving is an important skill for a computer scientist. Mindstorm based robots have been used previously, for teaching programming to computing and engineering students here we look at problem solving. These approaches focus upon the development of problem solving skills and not on learning a new programming language from the outset. Therefore, initially, any programming is kept simple with the minimum of commands, with „objects‟ unknowingly used, as these are later introduced/learnt during the programming stage of the computing module. This work suggests that using LEGO robots within the teaching of problem solving and the resulting java GUI emulation has some benefits for the students when learning to program. 

Further details can be found in the following article:

      Wednesday, 17 November 2010



      The School of Science and Technology at the University of Northampton have been working with local schools to create robots made from junk. This is an initiative by the University to introduce environmental sustainability, engineering and computing to students and has been been funded by Northampton Enterprise Limited and east midlands development agency (emda).

      This project sets out to engage pupils with a set of activities over four three-hour sessions that provides an insight into STEM subjects. The workshops will be structured in the following way:

      (a)Session 1: Introduction to waste management, its impact, recycling and reuse. An introduction to the idea of making robots from rubbish.
      (b)Two sessions involving guided exercises.
      · Session 2: Involves some problem-solving exercises (approx. ½ hour), then in groups investigate adding ‘junk’ with a new electrical components such as batteries and motors to use vibrations to move the robots.
      · Session 3: To apply some of the ideas on problem solving and use of materials developed previously to build a little junk-clearing robot.
      · Lego based robots are provided with two light sensors;
      · a play area (containing borders and area for the junk to be placed);
      The facilitators will help with programming the robots and the instructions to be used.
      (c) The final session will involve the students, with the help of the facilitators, demonstrating and presenting their group’s solutions.
      a. Each group will present their work to the other groups in a way they feel is most appropriate- with facilitators help if needed.
      b. An hour 'tinkering time' before the presentation will be given to solve any last minute problems.
      The project aims to provide an opportunity for year 7 to 10 pupils to meet a range of people working or training in STEM subjects; the selection of the facilitators aims to have diverse mix of ethnicity to attempt to dispel stereotypes of scientists and engineers.

      Details can be found at the project site including some example exercises.

      For further details please contact: or +44 1604 893028

      Recent interest:

      Tuesday, 16 November 2010

      Problem Solving with Robots in Computing

      Scott Turner and Gary Hill from the Division of Computing of the University of Northampton UK,have been investigating teaching and developing problem solving skills as a first step developing programming skills through the use of LEGO-based robots and graphics based programming.

      Work on problem-solving has been on-going in the School of Science and Technology (was School of Applied Sciences) for the last four years looking at the concept of teaching and developing problem-solving first, then programming. The main vehicle for developing the problem-solving skills has been LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits and series of gradually more challenging robot-based tasks.

      Lawhead et al (2003) stated that robots “…provide entry level programming students with a physical model to visually demonstrate concepts” and “the most important benefit of using robots in teaching introductory courses is the focus provided on learning language independent, persistent truths about programming and programming techniques. Robots readily illustrate the idea of computation as interaction”. Synergies can be made with our work and those one on pre-object programming and simulation of robots for teaching programming as a visual approach to the teaching of the widely used programming language  Java.

      The main benefits that the students stated of this approach was they  believe robots provide a method to visually and physically see the outcome of a problem. The approach taken the module has been visually-orientated. The appropriateness of this seems to be borne out by the student comments. Student satisfaction  for a module based around this approach is over 92%. One of the comments made was that the linking of the problem-solving robot task and the programming assignment was liked. This feedback is similar to that reported by other authors when teaching programming using robots (Williams et al, 2003).  There is enough scope in this approach to have different levels of complexity/functionality within an assignment task offering a basic ‘pass’ level for a particular task, but also the scope for those students that desire more of a challenge.

      Lawhead PB, Bland CG, Barnes DJ, Duncan ME, Goldweber M, Hollingsworth RG,
      Schep M (2003), A Road Map for Teaching Introductory Programming Using
      LEGO Mindstorms Robots SIGCSE Bulletin, 35(2): 191-201.
      Williams AB (2003) The Qualitative Impact of Using LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot
      to Teach Computer Engineering IEEE Trans. EducVol. 46 pp 206.


      • Turner S and Hill G (2010) "Innovative use of Robots and Graphical Programming in Software Education" Computer Education Ser. 117 No. 9 pp 54-57 ISSN: 1672-5913
      • Turner S, Hill G, Adams J (2009) "Robots in problem solving in programming" 9th 1-day Teaching of Programming Workshop, University of Bath, 6th April 2009.  
      • 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 
      • Turner S and Adams J (2008) "Robots and Problem Solving" 9th Higher Education Academy-ICS Annual Conference, Liverpool Hope University, 26th August - 28th August 2008. pp. 14 ISBN 978-0-9559676-0-3. 
      • Adams, J. and Turner, S., (2008) Problem Solving and Creativity for Undergraduate Computing and Engineering students: the use of robots as a development tool Creating Contemporary Student Learning Environments 2008, Northampton, UK. 
      • Adams, J. and Turner, S., (2008) Problem Solving and Creativity for Undergraduate Engineers: process or product? International Conference on Innovation, Good Practice and Research in Engineering Education 2008, Loughborough, UK. 
      • Adams, J., Turner, S., Kaczmarczyk, S., Picton, P. and Demian, P.,(2008). Problem Solving and Creativity for Undergraduate Engineers: findings of an action research project involving robots International Conference on Engineering Education ICEE 2008, Budapest, Hungary. 
      • Turner S and 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 ISBN 0-978-0-9552005-7-1 
      • Turner S (2007) Developing problem-solving teaching material based upon Microsoft Robotics Studio. 8th Annual Conference of the Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences, University of Southampton, 28th - 30th August 2007 pp 151 ISBN 0-978-0-9552005-7-1 
      • Turner S (2007) Developing problem-solving teaching materials based upon Microsoft Robotics Studio. Innovative Teaching Development Fund Dissemination Day 1st March 2007 Microsoft:London 
      • Turner S and Hill G (2006) The Inclusion Of Robots Within The Teaching Of Problemsolving: Preliminary Results Proceedings of 7th Annual Conference of the ICS HE Academy Trinity College, Dublin, 29th - 31st August 2006 Proceedings pg 241-242 ISBN 0-9552005-3-9