Level 2+: Robots Unit

What did the robot say to his programmer? “I like you a bot.” Ready for a week exploring the world of programming and robots? This week, we’ll tackle a variety of subjects (including math, science, literacy, and more!) with a bot-tastic twist, including learning the history of some of the world’s first computer programmers. So all circuits engage, it’s time to learn! Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the the phonics rule about adding ED to regular verbs to make them past tense. 

Lesson 1:

Your child has likely seen robots in stories, TV shows, and movies, but often these robots push the boundaries of what a robot can really do. So what is a robot? A robot is a machine that does tasks without the help of a person. Many people think of robots as machines that look and act like people. Most robots, though, do not look like people. And robots do only what a person has built them to do. (source) The word “robot” is taken from the Czech word “robota” which roughly translates to “forced labor” or “drudgery.” These machines are created to serve various purposes and to perform many different functions. (source)

For today’s activities, begin looking through the book Bots and Bods: How Robots and Humans Work, from the Inside Out. It will give your child a relatable perspective on how robots function and parts that are needed for them to work. You can also watch this video to see some examples of real-life robots.

Activity 1: Let’s build some robots while also reviewing some geometry! Print this activity to review shapes, or you can try this craftier version if your child prefers to create something tangible.

Activity 2: We’ll be reading several robot stories throughout the week, and we’ve also recommended a couple wonderful chapter books that will inspire your child to think creatively. We’d also love to see your child’s own robot stories! First, print this comic template. Next, share the below writing prompts with your child and have them choose one to inspire their own robot comic. They may wish to add the words to their story or have you scribe for them. (This is a creative writing exercise, not a handwriting lesson, so don’t worry if they prefer to have you write to keep up with their ideas.)

Here are a few prompts to get them started:

  • What would happen if you found a robot in your backyard?
  • What would happen if you built a robot…and then it came to life?!
  • What would happen if your recycling pile turned into a robot?
  • What would happen if a robot started messing up your room?
  • What would happen if you found out your family member was a robot?

Activity 3: Want to try building a small motorized robot? Follow this tutorial to create a coloring machine.

Lesson 2:

Robots are awesome…but they are so much more than a body and a motor. For robots (and all computers) to work, they need a program to follow. History is full of people who helped to define computer programming as we know it today, including Ada Lovelace. Let’s learn about this brilliant woman in today’s book, Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer (or listen to this read aloud). You can also watch this short documentary for kids to learn more about her life.

Activity 1: Today’s lessons will begin to introduce your child to a bit of coding, which is foundational when it comes to creating a robot. An important thing to remember is that a robot can only do what it is programmed to do, meaning it must have a specific instruction or instructions to follow. In a very simple way, it’s sort of like a game of Simon Says. Let’s play our own version of this game called Programmer Says (with a reading twist!) to get your child thinking like a programmer.

First, take 8-10 index cards and write words on them that your child is working on reading. (You might take inspiration from this week’s Phonics Rule!) First, hide one card somewhere in your home or yard and tell your child that you are going to be the programmer and they will be the robot. Have them stand in one corner of the yard or room. Tell them they can only move when you give them a command to do so. Next, help direct them to the card using commands like “Programmer says…take two steps forward” or “Programmer says…take six bunny hops to the right.” You can make your commands as silly (and your route as complicated) as desired. When they get to the card, give them the command, “Programmer says…read the card” to give them some practice.

Next, switch roles to let your child be the programmer. Be sure to follow their commands exactly to illustrate the importance of ensuring your code is accurate!

Activity 2: Next, let’s work on some coding vocabulary. Here are some commonly used terms amongst programmers that your child should know:

programmer: a person who writes code for computers

code: a set of step-by-step instructions that tells a computer what to do

coding: the process of creating, designing, and building (in most cases, from scratch) an executable computer program to accomplish a specific result

command: a specific instruction given to a computer or robot that tells it what to do

bit: a singular unit of information that is commonly represented as a 0 or 1, also called binary code

bug: an error or fault in an app, computer program, or software that makes it produce an unexpected result or behave in a different way than the one established in the algorithm

Fun fact: The first computer bug was an actual bug. In 1947, Grace Hopper and her colleagues realized that their computer was constantly making errors. When they decided to open the computer’s hardware, they saw a dead moth. Hence why we call them bugs today! (source) We’ll learn more about Grace Hopper later this week.

blocky: a drag-and-drop programming language, commonly used to teach kids how to code in an easy and colorful way

debug: finding and fixing errors in a computer program

loop: a control flow statement that allows code to be repeated, or looped

algorithm: a sequence of instructions where the main goal is to solve a specific problem or perform a certain action

variable: a value that changes depending on the data and information the specific program receives

Next, review these new words and their definitions with this crossword puzzle.

Activity 3: Finally, let’s do a little “unplugged” coding practice of our own. Begin by printing these two sheets and cutting out the squares on the second page.

Explain to your child that you are providing code to the robot to get him back to his charging station. Give them the robot square and the charging station square (or bits) and have them put them wherever they like in the grid. Next, give them the gears and lightning bolts, which will represent obstacles, and place a few around their grid. (They don’t need to use all of them.)

Now, they need to use the arrow bits to provide commands to the robot. Use the arrows to create path for the robot around the obstacles to their charging station. It might look like this:

Next, use a blank piece of paper or simply the table next to your grid to demonstrate how these commands would be laid out in a computer program, like this:

Using this version as a reference, have them physically move the robot square according to the commands to see how if the robot followed its code, it would make it to its charging station.

Congratulations, your child is now a programmer!

(+) Ready to try a plugged-in version of coding? Code-A-Pillar is a free app game for kids that lets them learn basic coding in a fun and engaging way. Give it a download if your child is interested in learning more!

Lesson 3:

Remember the programmer who coined the term “bug” for a computer program issue? Let’s learn her full story in today’s book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (or listen to this read aloud).

Activity 1: Grace Hopper loved math—and she used loads of it in her work as a programmer! Let’s start our day with a new math activity in honor of Grace. Today, we’ll be talking about fractions using number lines to visualize them. (This can be especially helpful for children who have a hard time understanding what fractions are or how they work together.) You will need snap cubes, a white piece of paper, and some markers.

Snap together 4 green cubes and 4 blue cubes (8 total) and lay them on the paper. Draw a line as long as the cube bar. Next, draw small lines to mark the edges of each cube. (It should look more like a number line now.) Use a different color marker to write a 0 at one end of the number line and a 1 at the other end.

Have your child count the “parts” of the whole number line (there are 8 parts). There are 8 parts to the whole. In other words, the stick of cubes is broken into eighths. {Remind students that the denominator represents the number of parts that make up the whole.} Practice counting the cubes as 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 8/8.

Next, count the green cubes. Have them label the point on the line that represents the fraction of the bar that is green. (The answer is 4/8.) This is also a great opportunity to point out that 4/8 really means “4 out of 8 cubes are green.” You might also help them to see that 4/8 could also be written as 1/2 because the green cubes make up half of the whole bar.

Repeat the activity with a different ratio of snap cubes to help reinforce the lesson.

Activity 2: A lot of coding is being able to recognize patterns. Let’s do some robot pattern work with this printable. Cut out the robots on the second page and let your child glue them into place on the first page to complete the patterns. (Tip: If your child struggles with seeing patterns, try saying the colors of the robots out loud to see if it’s easier for them to hear the pattern.)

Activity 3: End the day by making this fun climbing robot!

Lesson 4:

One of our favorite things about math is that we can learn about it in every day life! Let’s see how math, robots, and coding collide in the real world with the book How to Code a Rollercoaster (or listen to this read aloud). You’ll also love this book for helping to review the vocabulary we learned earlier this week.

Activity 1: When you think of code as a set of instructions, you realize that you can code almost anything in life! But learning to code properly also means paying attention to details and really thinking through what you need to accomplish—after all, your robot will only do exactly what you tell it to do. Let’s illustrate with a silly activity: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

In this activity, your child with be the programmer and you (or another child) will be their “robot.” First, have your child write out (or illustrate) exact instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Or something similar if you have dietary restrictions.) Remind them that you will only do exactly what they instruct, so they should be as detailed as possible.

Once they are done, have them read their instructions out loud to you while you perform them. In all likelihood, they will forget some details (like telling you to open the bread bag or to use a knife to spread the peanut butter!), but do your best to follow their instructions exactly! The results should be pretty funny, but it’s also a real lesson for future programmers: A robot can only do exactly what it’s told to do, so when you’re creating code, you have to pay attention to the details!

Activity 2: In the book, Pearl solves the secret code at the end by unscrambling a word. Let’s try this for ourselves (while also reviewing our coding vocabulary) with these robot word scrambles.
(-) Working with a younger sibling? Have them try out this robot sensory tray to work on writing their letters or numbers.

Activity 3: Next, let’s engineer another robot with this robot car tutorial!

Lesson 5:

When it comes to actually building a robot, it helps to know some engineering basics. Let’s read the book Simple Machines (or listen to this read aloud) to learn more about how machines can function. You can also watch this video to learn more.

Activity 1: Let’s bring simple machines to life with this STEM challenge.

Activity 2: Let’s build our own rover robot! Use these instructions to create your own.

Activity 3: Now that your child knows so much more about robot capabilities, let’s design our own! First, have them brainstorm the job their robot will do. (Don’t limit them with reality—the wilder the idea, the better!) Once they have their idea, have them draw their robot design or even build a prototype out of recycled and craft materials. What will they call their creation?

Activity 4: Want a little silly gross motor work to end the week? Try a robot dance game! Write the below “commands” (or come up with your own) on popsicle sticks and draw them out of a bag for your child to perform:

  • Shake your booty 5 times
  • Take 7 giant hops
  • Bend your knees 3 times
  • Spin in 6 circles
  • Skip 8 times
  • Do 4 high kicks
  • Walk in a square
  • Dance in a circle
  • Walk backward until next command
  • Take 6 tiny steps forward

You can play this song for some robot background music while you dance!

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.