This workshop develops notions of programming language and is an extension of a previous robot game-based activity.
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This activity is designed to introduce, in an offline way, notions of programming languages. It is an extension of ‘Introduction to Programming via Robot Game (Offline)‘, and is meant for children or parent-children groups who do not have experience in programming.
Familiarise yourself with the ideas below, as well as the activity ‘Introduction to Programming via Robot Game (Offline)‘. It is best to have already followed this workshop in advance (as much for yourself as for the group). Print the instructions that will serve as the basic language to be used by participants, for example from images of arrows or of Scratch blocks. It is possible to refer to material often used in robotics workshops (Dash, Thymio).
Computers cannot understand human language. They understand only binary (a way of presenting information in 1s and 0s using electricity). Humans can ‘speak’ binary only with difficulty and impracticality. We have therefore invented programming languages, easily manipulated by humans, which are translated to binary to be understood by computers. A programming language is therefore a vehicle for linking between the programmer (person who writes programs) and the computer.
Through a programming language, orders – instructions – can be given to the computer to tell it what to do (play a video, open a website, etc.) and how to react (to a mouse click, to a keypress, etc.). Human languages have evolved through practice, i.e. in the creation of new words, the disappearance of obsolete words, the mixing of languages, etc. As for programming languages, they have evolved through technological progress.
Different IT languages have different results: managing internet sites, making smartphone apps, controlling robots, etc. In general, programming languages use English words to express simple precise things. The closer a programming language is to binary, the more it is known as ‘low level‘.
The further away from binary a language is on the other hand, the more it is known as ‘high level‘. In Scratch, we can choose the human language in which we will program, therefore we use high level language when using Scratch.
Some examples of languages
Human languages are grouped by ‘families’: Germanic languages, Romance languages, etc. Their categorisation depends on their origins and their common characteristics. Programming languages also have ‘families’ based on paradigms: their methodologies allowing them to program using different styles. Scratch: a block-based language designed to introduce the audience to programming.
It is a simple and practical way to start with programming.
HTML : a tag-based language used to create webpages via hypertext.
Python: also object-oriented, it is very versatile and popular, including in the domain of education.
C : a procedural low-level language for manipulating electronic components. It is used in many devices from dishwashers to satellites to cars, robots and aircraft.
C++ : the object-oriented evolution of C, like Python, it can do many things and is used everywhere from business management to video games.
Robot game extension
Host a discussion with guided questions, or another method of your choice, focusing on the notions above.
The most important thing to get across is that a programming language is a way of addressing a computer without needing to ‘speak’ binary, and that there are different types.
Explain that now, the group will be able to use a simple language to program the robot game. Keep the map you used for the robot game.
Add the printed instructions and review them with the group to make sure everyone understands the arrows/blocks/movements in the same way (keep in mind: ‘pivot’ and ‘turn’ don’t mean the same thing). As with the base game, divide participants into pairs. One will play the role of ‘programmer’ and the other the robot who executes the program.
The different robots should start at different departure points. Give the pretext and the robot’s objective depending on the assigned route and the objects/drawings set in place (e.g. go to the chest and take the treasure). The ‘programmers’ will to use the instruction sheet, without speaking, to communicate their commands to the robots in a clear way and in the chosen programming language.
For the first round, programmers will show one sign at a time and the robots will execute their orders immediately. When everyone understands the game, repeat it, this time using groups of three: two programmers and one robot. The programmers discuss which instructions to choose and place them on the ground in order. When they think their program is ready, they read the instructions to the robot who will execute them in order. If an error occurs, the robot goes back to the start and the programmers will need to correct their program.