Robots Build a Better World

Ricky Statham July 24, 2017

Have you ever looked around your community and said, “Wow, our teens don’t have much to do around here?” There is no movie theatre, no museum, and certainly no fancy toy stores. This is how this program began for us. We realized that our teens, while carrying an iPhone or Android, did not have very many opportunities to experience the technology that would likely impact their futures in every-day life and most certainly their future occupation in some form or fashion if it does not already.

This program is designed for libraries who are just now diving into the world of STEM and newer technologies. Trying new things can be scary, and you may look at your wallet (budget) and see moths flying out when you open it. I have been there. The beauty of this program is that you don’t necessarily have to buy all of the technologies. You can choose one and build your program around it. This program is also designed to introduce your tween and teen patrons to the world of Robotics and Coding.

 With just a few supplies and a Makey Makey and/or some Cubelets, you and your teens will be on your way to the land of R2D2 or Johnny 5. (Shows my age ;))

Type: Active
Age: Middle school
Optimal size: 6-10
Estimated cost: $100+
Planning time: 5+ hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

  • Develop an interest in STEM and STEM learning activities
  • Develop a capacity to productively engage in STEM learning activities
  • Come to value the goals of STEM and STEM learning activities
  • The learner communicates clearly with peers, mentors, and others about concepts, goals, decisions, and processes.
  • The learner works through challenges and does not give up when obstacles are encountered. The learner applies knowledge gained from failures to future endeavors.
  • Connect and collaborate with others
  • Demonstrate curiosity and innovate
  • Mentor, assist or teach others


The first thing we did when planning this program was to hop on Amazon and search for books about Robotics and even some on coding. There are a ton of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that are centered around or support the idea of Robots, Robotics, and Coding.

Here are a few that we chose to purchase for our collection:

These books will give the teens good resources to pull from if they are interested in Robotics and Coding.

Next we had to decide what technologies we wanted to introduce them to at the program. Trust me when I say that searching for Robots on Amazon almost caused me to short circuit. The fact of the matter is that you have to search for a technology that you are comfortable with. If you start out trying to build a fully functioning robot that can bring you tea, you will get frustrated and quit.

Some good technologies to start out with are:

Other needed items:

  • Projector
  • Table for Projector
  • Laptop
  • Playdoh
  • Aluminum Cans
  • Leaves

The last thing we did before making any purchases was to reach out to the local schools and community colleges about the possibility of coming and presenting at the beginning of the program. We were fortunate enough to have a science teacher in our town that operates Remote Operated Vehicles at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. Not only did his presentation talk about ROVs as Robots, but he was also able to share with them about job opportunities in this field. Our local community college gave us brochures about their tech programs. Use the resources around you and realize you don’t have to be the expert.

My program ended up looking like this:

Presenter- 1hr
Ashley Allen, local science teacher and ROV driver, presented information about ROVs to the teens. The presentation was filled with interesting facts about how ROVs are built, what types of jobs they do, and the differences in different underwater vehicles. Mr. Allen brought a homemade ROV to show the teens, and told them about a competition in which teens build an ROV and compete against other teens. Believe it or not they ate it up.

Introduction to Robotics- 1-2 hours
We demonstrated the three technologies we had purchased, gave out informational packets about the technologies, and broke the teens into groups. We would have one group working together to see what type of robot they could build with Cubelets. Another group would be operating Wonderbot Dash by coding on a phone or tablet to make him move, speak, or launch a plastic ball. The last group was designing and testing ways to turn the Makey Makey into a remote control so they could play the piano or make Mario jump. This group used playdoh, aluminum cans, and whatever else their mind could come up with to use to make the Makey Makey work. More detailed info is below.

Makey Makey
Participants utilized the technology to control games designed on Scratch. Scratch is a free coding website where you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations. The group experimented by connecting the Makey Makey to objects such as leaves, aluminum cans, and each other to play the piano or control Mario. If you connect the Makey Makey to leaves, each leaf becomes a control (space bar, up arrow, down arrow, right arrow, left arrow) for the game.

YouTube and Google are full of ideas that utilize the Makey Makey, so your options are wide open.

Wonder Workshop Dash & Dot Robot
Participants used an iPhone with the Wonder Workshop app to code one of the robots. The app is preloaded with coding activities, so planning this activity was easy. You can also operate the robot through the use of your phone as a remote control. Participants have a tendency to want to operate the robot this way. The Wonder Workshop Launcher Accessory is available as an additional purchase to give your Dash robot a catapult. Once connected, participants can launch small objects into the air.

Dot is a robot that doesn’t move. Participants can control the lights and sounds associated with Dot. This robot is better utilized with a younger age group.

The app does all of the prep work, but you could design an obstacle course that participants have to navigate through by coding or operating Dash via remote control.

After showing the group how to make a simple robot that moves when it senses light or a robot that lights up and spins when it senses something close to it, we handed the Cubelets over to the group to see what they could build. Occasionally we might ask what they thought would happen if they added this Cubelet to their robot, but they were quite adept at testing and pushing the boundaries of their robots.

Again, YouTube and Google are great guides when planning activities with Cubelets.


This was my first attempt at a program like this, and after the program finished, I realized that this program is so versatile that we may have tried to do too much in the allotted time. You could honestly spend $50, buy a Makey Makey, and create a whole program based on that. If you have access to computers and the internet, your teens could do a program where they code in Scratch (free) and use the Makey Makey to control their coded creation. The possibilities on this are endless. Maybe we tried to do too much at one time, but it was nice to see the teens working together and trying to outdo each other. It doesn’t hurt when they learn in the process.

We were pleased with the program and we feel we accomplished our intended learning outcomes; however, there are some things we would have done differently if we had it to do over again. When a program is completely new to your library, you tend to over plan and make things more difficult than they should have been. We have highlighted some changes that could make the program even more effective.

Choosing one technology

We selected three different technologies to build our program around. Now that the program is finished, we realize that we could have purchased one of the three technologies and still accomplished our intended outcomes. Participants would be actively engaged and excited about Cubelets, but treated the Wonder Workshop Dash robot like a remote control car. With one technology we would have been able to focus the budget toward providing an adequate amount of one technology for the number of participants attending. It was also hard to get the full experience of each technology when you are trying to do it all in a two-hour span.

We are glad we have all of the technologies to use in future programming, but we see where we could have done a better job to make the program more effective.

Multiple sessions

Looking back you always find something you wish you could change. When we wrote the grant, we planned to do a one night program. With the technologies we purchased, we could have spread things out and accomplished more with 3 to 5 sessions. The Makey Makey can be used simultaneously with Scratch which would allow you to teach basic coding, allow them to create a game with controls, and then utilize the Makey Makey to control their game.

With the activities available for the technologies we chose, we could have expanded the programming beyond that one night.


The first run is always the hardest. We had 11 teens sharing two tables. It was a bit chaotic. If we could change the setup, we would do a better job of stationing each technology at a different space in the library. We would have had one staff member at each station to walk the participants through learning about the technology at that station. Teens tend to gravitate toward the technology that they really enjoy or understand, so it would have been easier to group them evenly and send them from station to station.

We loved watching them all huddled around the tables learning and experimenting, but we realize that we could have done a better job with the layout.

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