Activity 1.13
Be the Boss of a Robot
To deepen and clarify children’s understanding of how we program robots, revisit
the picture book described in activity 1.6, Me and My Robot by Tracey West. Revisit-
ing this story after children have some experience observing and experiencing the
concept of commands can lead to some fruitful discussion of the big question “How
do we tell robots what to do?”
Read the story aloud, then invite the children to act out the story, taking on the
roles of the boy, Reese; his robot, Robot; and Reese’s friend Lucy. Other children can
play the roles of the animals in the story: the dog, some ants, a squirrel, a rabbit,
and, of course, the kitten. Read the story again and have the story actors move and
speak the dialogue as best they can.

Afterward, ask the children, “Who was in charge of the robot? Who told the
robot what to do?” Discuss how Reese’s robot is similar to the real robot you
observed in the previous activity. A robot is something you command.

Next, children may enjoy playing a robot version of the game Simon Says. Have
the children be the robots, and you, as Simon, be the programmer. Use the term
“command” to describe the instructions that Simon gives during the game. Say, for
example, “Robots, here is your first command. Simon says put your hands on your
head.” Activity 1.14
Is This a Robot?
In this activity, you will present children with a variety of objects. Each one demon-
strates at least one characteristic of a robot. You will ask the children, “Is this a
robot? Why or why not?” There are no right or wrong answers. The conversations
and explorations will develop children’s critical thinking skills as they evaluate and
compare the objects and consider many of the most important foundational char-
acteristics of robots. This activity will address the following big questions:

▸ What is a robot?
▸ What is a machine?
▸ What is a computer?
▸ What’s the difference between a machine and a robot?
▸ Are all machines robots? Are all robots machines?
▸ What’s the difference between a robot and a computer?
You will need a variety of objects, each one demonstrating a characteristic of a
robot. Here is a suggested combination:
• something that looks like a robot but doesn’t actually work, such as a wooden
or rubber robot toy or a picture of a robot
• a simple machine—something that serves a purpose but is not programmable,
such as a real or toy clock, a pencil sharpener, a stapler, or a coffeemaker
• something that is programmable, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet
(I use an old, broken smartphone for this activity so I can let children play
with it and not worry that it will be damaged.)
• something that looks like a part of a robot, such as a plastic toy robot hand
or toy grabber
This activity works well as a morning provocation, an activity presented to
children as they are arriving in the classroom. You can invite children to touch and
play with the objects and engage in conversations about what is a robot and what
is not. For each item, ask the children, “Is this a robot?” Ask them to explain their
thinking. Document children’s responses by making an audio or video recording
or taking notes.

Based on the children’s ideas, create a documentation board or poster in
response to the question “What is a robot?” Or, if you have already started this doc-
umentation (as suggested in activity 1.6), use this opportunity to revisit and revise
your classroom definition of the word “robot.”