3 Other Things to Program - Bored of Bee Bots?
By Nick Acton
23 December, 2019 by
3 Other Things to Program - Bored of Bee Bots?
Nick Acton Music

An endless list of technologies are programmed. Just hitting one key on a computer sets a massive algorithm in motion. Imagine how much programming goes into an entire sentence! Industries rely on complex programmes to power huge production lines. Algorithms are at the centre of the creation of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Snap Chat, Youtube etc etc.

Education is sometimes guilty of not quite conveying this message to children. In Primary School the learning will centre around moving animated characters across a screen and/or programming bee bots to navigate from A to B. Secondary School children might explore slightly more complex algorithms. However, the overall objectives rarely go further than a computer screen or ‘ground bound motion’. Explaining the full extent of programmable technologies is ultimately impossible for schools to achieve. However, we can all do better at widening the context for the subject.

Here are just three easy ways of doing so… 

1) Programming instruments

Sounds are programmed for all sorts of reasons. Keyboards and synthesisers are some of the most programmable elements in modern music production. Children can engage with this kind of creative programming via an app called Tynker.
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The app itself provides a wide range of programming activities including a virtual keyboard that children are able to re-programme completely. The notes can be changed, adapted and added to. For example, hitting one key could trigger a sequence of notes. Volumes can be tinkered with to make the entire piano more dynamic and naturalistic. Whilst this kind of programming stays completely digital it does strongly introduce how physical keyboards are programmed. 
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2) Programming lights

Wifi lights are just one of the many products that have been connected to the internet over the past few years. You can connect your fridge, heating and even your toothbrush if you want to turn your home into a smart home. I would argue that it’s worth showing the children the programming of the school’s heating. Again, it’s a practical and real-life example of how programming affects us all day-to-day. However, I can see how that is not the most engaging activity. Lights are a lot more fun. EasyBulb are a company that have jumped on the Wifi Bulb market in a big way. They have introduced bulbs that can be connected to an app (also called easybulb) and crucially they don’t cost the earth. Children can programme timers for the lights. They can change their colours and programme how lights will react according to where they are in the room. Not only is this a fun way of engaging with programming, but it could also have a practical and useful end result. The lights could be installed in an immersive room and be used to great effect for children with specific learning needs. Alternatively, the lights could be programmed to turn on a specific times during school holidays as an extra security feature within the school.  

3) Programming drones

One of the coolest and most controversial technological uprisings has been that of airborne drones. They have been commercially available for a long while but, like the wifi bulbs, they have only recently come down to a realistically affordable price for most schools. As soon as they hit the market, many app developers began to integrate the programming of these awesome machines into their own applications. One such app is called Tickle. Like Tynker, Tickle offers a wide range of programming opportunities. This includes the ability to connect to certain flying devices such as the ‘Airborne Cargo’ drone. 
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The app takes a ‘building block’ approach to algorithms that is recognisable from other programmes such as ‘Scratch’ or ‘Hopscotch’. The difference being that you are controlling a physical object. With this particular drone, you can programme it to collect and distribute cargo. In many ways this is the kind of programming that goes into the running of production lines.  

Science Fiction is looking less and less like fiction everyday. Robots and programmes are taking over many of our day-to-day menial tasks. Ultimately, many robots and programmes can complete tasks in a faster, safer and more efficient way than we can as humans. Of course, this takes it’s toll on our overall economy and the number of jobs available for the children of the future. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean less jobs but more of a shift of jobs. Being a good programmer is becoming more and more important in the work space. All companies are concerned with efficiency and the ease at which tasks can be completed. Systems and solutions for better workflows are big business. Most people benefit from them everyday in their professional lives. It is important that children are able to contribute to these aspects of working. It is important that they know how programming works. Perhaps more importantly however, they need to understand the importance of programming sooner rather than later.

If you liked this article, discover why Apple Swift Playgrounds is a great programming app or explore our STEM blog section!

About Nick

Nick Acton is a Trainer Specialist at JTRS as well as being a part-time Computing and Music teacher. Through the creation of bespoke training, Nick specialises in empowering educators so they can embed education technologies into their day-to-day classroom practice.