Friday, December 22, 2006

Crickets –Our First Experience

I recently bought a copy of the Cricket’s package and tried it out at our local elementary school, Cedar Creek, with the cooperation of the teacher who runs the robotics class. Robolab starts at third grade and really kicks in at the fourth and fifth grade level. My daughter while interested in mathematics is not so interested in Legos. She likes arts and crafts. I chose the Crickets because it combined programming with a crafts approach.

We tried it out on one of the machines in the room with a student that already had done the Robolab work. He was able to pick up the programming almost immediately. The graphical symbols are color coded. Light and sound icons are in blue. Motor icons are in green. Sensor icons are in purple, and so forth. Dataflow icons are in orange. These include functions such as Wait, Wait-until, Repeat, etc. This is where Crickets starts to teach programming concepts. The kids have to think about what they want it to do and then choose the right dataflow icon for their program.

The icons were more than simple blocks but had molded shapes showing how you might stack one icon on another to create a sequence of programmatic steps. You can then run one step or the whole sequence by clicking on it with a “magic wand.” This made debugging easy and the kids found it fun to see something happen immediately.

Probably the most fun came when we reached the “melodies” block which opened up a player piano-like interface that let the kids write their own song by clicking on a grid that played a note at a specific pitch. They then encapsulated the melody into a program from which they could choose the instrument and the tempo of the song. This inspired some creative thinking.

The Crickets came with simple instructions for setup. The biggest mistake we made was not inserting the three AAA batteries required by the “sending” which is the device that communicates between the computer and the Cricket blocks. Once we figure that out, everything worked pretty much as the manual described.

The biggest benefit is that Crickets lends itself to a broader range of craft-like applications. I’m sure my daughter will go further with it than the Lego blocks at her age. Next semester we’re expanding the program to reach out to more students.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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