About the event
Edinburgh Science is more than just an organisation that runs a Festival. Our schools touring programme, Generation Science, is the UK’s longest running STEM outreach programme for primary schools, with 2020 marking our 29th year of operation. Every year we send between 10–15 interactive ‘education environments’, (linked to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence) around the country, visiting schools in each local authority in Scotland and delivering around 1,500 workshops and performances for primary children.
Our Generation Science shows and workshops are designed to engage young learners using larger-than-life props, actions and experiments. We can’t recreate all that in your living room, but we hope that these activities can get you thinking about the topics in our shows.
Bricks and Blocks
Best suited for ages 5–8
Bricks and Blocks is a hands-on, interactive workshop where children engage with programming. Children discover what robots are, why they are useful and how we tell them what to do. They learn two important rules of computer programming: instructions should be clear and concise; and instructions should be in the correct order.
The following activities are designed to get young people to think about how computers and machines work, and how we can create programs that control machines.
Supported by Royal Bank of Scotland
These questions are designed to get you and your home learners talking about the science behind these activities. We don’t expect you to know everything there is to know about computers, but we do find that exploring and questioning what we know inspires us to find out more. Try using some of these Big Questions below to spark curiosity and see what other questions come up as you are completing these activities. We have provided some smaller steps under each question to help with your discussions as you’re exploring.
Starter Question: What are some real-life examples of machines that have computer programs?
Q: What jobs can you think of where machines are used to help people? Can you think of any machines that do things that would be dangerous for humans? Have you thought about what happens in factories that make things? What sort of machines would be needed there?
Hint: Often factories have large-scale production lines that include humans and robots. Car factories are a good example, where robots can lift heavy equipment, cut metal, weld and glue parts of the car, all at high speed. This requires some very accurate code.
Q: Can you find any machines in your house that do more than one thing? Or a machine that has a sensor – something like a heat sensor, or a camera?
Hint: A smartphone, computer or even a voice assistant can do many different things, each one needing code to make it work. Dishwashers and washing machines don’t look like robots, but they have sensors and run programs to make them work.
Starter Question: How do robots move?
Q: What parts of a robot have you seen move? What does an electric motor do?
Hint: Usually the wheels or legs of a robot can move, as well as arms or even tails! An electric motor uses electricity to move when it is switched on.
Q: Does a robot have a brain? Is there one part that controls all the other parts? What part of a robot sends signals to the motors?
Hint: The “brain” of a robot is its computer, or central processing unit.
Q: What signals does a robot send back to its computer?
Hint: Signals from any sensors, like a camera or distance sensor, get sent to the robot’s computer. The code on the computer will then figure out what to do next.
Q: How would a robot know when it is getting close to something? What senses can a robot have?
Hint: It can use a distance sensor, or a camera, to figure out how far away things are. Just like we use our eyes our touch.
Q: Where is a robot’s computer program stored?
Hint: A robot’s code is stored in its computer, or central processing unit, in its memory.
Starter Question: How do you make a computer program?
Q: Did you know that some people write computer programs, or computer code, for a job? What do you think computer code looks like? Are there different types of computer program or code?
Hint: There are many different programming languages. Some common ones are java, python, swift and C#. Have you used any others?
Q: What happens if someone makes a mistake in the program?
Hint: Mistakes lead to computer errors. Often the program doesn’t work at all, but sometimes it’s mostly works, but goes wrong when its being used. We call that error a bug.
Extension activities and questions
Can you find out about any jobs that used to be done by people, but are now completed by robots? Try to think of jobs that are dangerous or difficult, or very boring!
Computer scientists are good at solving problems, and a sorting problem is a good one to test your skills. Find 10 things in your house and lay them out in a line. Time yourself to sort them by size, and see if someone else can do it faster. Try to work out the most efficient way to sort them, then write down the steps. Did you compare things near each other, or gather them into smaller groups?
Try our other Kid’s Lab activities here
Links to help your young learners
Hour of Code – Try a one-hour tutorial designed for all ages in over 45 languages. Join millions of students and teachers in over 180 countries starting with an Hour of Code.
This is a playlist of many different robot videos for young people
Scratch is a drag-and-drop programming site. With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations
BBC clip about programming robots to play football
Lots of activities and information on CBBC’s robot week
BBC page about how to program a robot. Suitable for 5-8 year olds.