Getting to the 'Root' of coding

Root robot
United States (Boston)

Submitted by you:

Our thirst for computer programs and mobile apps shows no sign of abating. From online to the impending launch of driverless cars, these programs help to automate our lives, but they still need to be created using a ‘coding language’  – and this process requires human effort and ‘computer literacy’. Demand for computer programmers is ongoing, so teaching children about code from an early age is being encouraged from France to Africa.

Currently taught at a computer keyboard, coding is an abstract process. Step (well… glide) forward Root, a miniature robot that can empower the next generation of coders. Root can move and draw on whiteboards, spelling students’ names as they program when to drop and lift the pen. The robot can move along any horizontal surface, marking and erasing lines, scanning and displaying colours, and responding to light, sound and touch – giving an instant, physical manifestation of code.

Created by Wyss Institute at Harvard University, it’s the result of over three years’ work with input from teachers along the way, and the challenge is to effectively engage children with the coding process: “Real coding is far too abstract for young minds, and databases and algorithm development is not something engaging for older minds,” explains project leader Zivthan Dubrovsky. “Robots are a great way to bring coding to life, and give a physical presence to both simple and complex coding environments.”

Watch Root bring coding to life:

Root, together with its tablet interface Square, is designed to grab children’s attention and keep them interested. Using robots as teaching devices is not a new idea, but Root is far more than an educational toy. Children will soon be writing code that can make the robot perform a range of actions, and as their skills develop, they’ll be able to use programming languages like JavaScript to program Root.

“Our hope is that Root will be a catalyst to make coding approachable for elementary schools and more engaging for all the upper schools.”

Editor’s update 23 December 2016:

Root will ship by May 2017 in time for its curriculum to make a big impact for the 2017-18 school year: “2017 will be a monumental year for Root,” Zivthan Dubrovsky tells us. “We will go from having only a handful of robots that were hand assembled and manufactured in our lab to tens of thousands of robots being used in homes and classrooms. We will see teachers, parents, and students of every age coding with Root.”

Root for Root: To provide Root robots for schools and help fix the coding gap, back the project on their Kickstarter funding page.

Submitted by

Matthew Duffield (02 June 2016)

Bio

Matthew Duffield is a Barcelona-based writer, journalist and blogger – random reflections on music, art, culture, politics, people, places, ideas, love, dreams and the whole damn thing.

Project leader

Zivthan Dubrovsky

Creative Commons License

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