This activity will inspire conversations around many of the big questions about
robots: ▸ What is a robot?
▸ What can a robot do?
▸ What robots do you know?
▸ Do families need robots? Why or why not?
This activity works best as a planned group activity, introduced when you see
that children are noticing and thinking about the ways we program robots. You will
need a device that demonstrates many, if not all, of the essential characteristics of
a robot: it is programmable (has a computer or computer chip); it has a practical
function (provides some kind of helpful service to people); and it performs some
kind of action or movement (or makes a sound). The easiest example to find within
your reach is probably a smartphone or tablet, though a device that moves would
be even better. Perhaps there is an ATM within walking distance; the children will
observe how the machine has mechanisms for reading a card and dispensing cash.

Or perhaps you have access to a Roomba or another programmable household
device. To begin, gather the children and tell them that you have a robot you’d like them
to meet. Show them the device you have chosen for the activity. Demonstrate how
it works. If children say, “That’s not a robot,” ask them, “Why isn’t this a robot?” If
possible, make the device talk or perform an action in response to a command. Use
the word “command” frequently as you explain how the device works. This is an
important vocabulary word for children to learn as they grow to understand that
programming a robot means that we create a command that tells it what to do.

Suggest, “Let’s tell this robot what to do,” and ask, “What command can we give this
robot?” Then invite children to draw or make a model of the robot out of clay. Invite
the children to dictate a description of the robot.