Give kids a playful environment that they can interact with freely, and a cute Robot that they can control via simple instructions, and … just like that, they will start learning basic programming concepts and logic.
This, at least, is what RoboMind is designed to do; and it works; I’ve seen it first hand, demonstrated on my children, who picked it up and ran with it just like that, writing what looked like rudimentary code without hardly any learning curve.
It is simultaneously quite remarkable yet so very simple. RoboMind is multiplatform (Windows, Linux, Mac) and is free for personal home use, although schools and institutions need to purchase licenses.
The Learning Curve:
All the commands can be accessed from the ‘insert’ button in the ribbon menu (see screenshot to the right), but my experience with my six year old daughter is that she is happy to play with the simple movement commands for a very long time (as well as pickup, grab, and paint — the robot can paint the titles either black or white). Loops and conditionals are also supported, and I was surprised that my 6 year old intuitively understood what a loop was after playing around with the commands for a little bit. Overall, RoboMind deserves credit for being easy to pick up and use, even by children, from the first sitting.
You can download challenges (from this page) and simply unzip then drag and drop the script and map files onto the interface to get started. These challenges are mini games of various difficulty where you are given a goal and a specific environment to accomplish it, and generally they add a lot to the experience.
Overall – The verdict:
This is a remarkable program. It is simple, but succeeds in delivering what it is designed for; namely, to get children playing with concepts of programming and logic, while having fun all the while. It also makes the concept of ‘code’ accessible to children and completely un-intimidating.
Despite its accessibility, it is possible to do quite complicated things with the script, as the robot can see/sense the environment around. Combine that with a few conditionals and the robot is able to engage its outer environment with some ‘sophistication’. Those interested in pushing this program further to control actual, physical robots can actually export the script to the Lego Mindstorms NXT Robot.
Download RoboMind here (Windows, Mac, Linux).