Two Cambridge graduates teach kids to code with robots

Robotiky looking for support to kick start project of teaching kids to code through the use of robots

Two Cambridge graduates are searching for people to support a project that teaches children to code using robotics.

John Ginger and Matt Screeton, founders of Robotiky, are raising funds for their project using Kickstarter, which funs projects using a crowdsourcing model.

The New York-based firm vets projects, which can last up to 60 days, for no charge. The company makes money if the project is successful and reaches its funding goal – at that time Kickstarter takes 5%. Robotiky has so far received half its pledge-target goal of £25,000.

Ginger and Screeton met with Computer Weekly to share their story. They said Robotiky is a small programmable robot that helps kids learn coding via online tutorials and games. For example, children can program the robot to follow lines drawn on pieces of paper.

To operate the robot, children start with drag and drop exercises before moving to text-based programming languages within the same environment. Progressing through a series of levels, children can eventually download each program on to their robot.

After building a number of hardware prototypes, Ginger and Screeton trialed them with hundreds of children across the country. Fortunately, the duo found interest from people in the US, New Zealand and Australia before their demo was even finished and without the use of an actual robot.

Ginger and Screeton met while studying at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge more than four years ago. They were approached by Entrepreneur first in January, an investment programme with the aim of finding talented graduates to support them with building ideas and eventually technology startup companies. The pair joined a cohort of 32 other graduates to develop their idea further.

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That is when the team turned to Kickstarter to help fund the project.

Ginger, 24, studied mechanical and manufacturing engineering at the University of Cambridge and learnt to code from age eight. When young Ginger went to Legoland and created a robot in the Lego Mindstorms area, it won him first prize in the Lego competition.

He said: “Robotiky is not just a tool, it enables children to learn how to code and to see the results of what they coded. Children engage better when they are having fun and interacting with something.”

According to Ginger the software mirrors education-coding tool Scratch and enables children to move on to full text-based code.

Screeton, 22, studied natural sciences at the University of Cambridge, followed by a masters in materials science. He put together his first computer aged eight and regularly performed science experiments at his house.

“The robot is designed so children can progress through each level, and we even saw one 10-year-old girl manage the code and make the robot move within just two minutes,” said Screeton.

He added: “Girls read the instructions and are more methodical when using the robot.”

Ginger agreed by saying: “Girls tend to do better with the robot than the boys.”

Chris Mairs, chair of the UK forum for Computing Education, said: “Robots are a great way to engage young children with technology, and the Robotiky programming model really does have tremendous potential for building upon that initial engagement to teach substantive computational thinking and coding skills.”

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