Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have developed stickers for teaching young children to code.
“It’s a sandbox for exploring computational concepts, but it’s a sandbox that comes to the children’s world,” Michal Gordon, lead author on a new paper about the stickers, said in a press release.
The children in the study used stickers to program a robot called Dragonbot, that was also developed at MIT. The robot has audio and visual sensors, a speech synthesizer, as well as expressive gestures and faces displayed on a screen.
Stickers shaped like triangles represent stimuli, while circular stickers show responses. Arrow stickers indicate the relationships between the stimuli and response. The children use the stickers to create a program. First the shape stickers are put on laminated sheets, and then pictures are added to indicate a specific stimuli and response. For example, a program might tell the robot that when it sees a thumbs up sign, it should smile. Blank stickers are also available for kids who want to write verbal cues and responses.
For the study, the researchers had to manually enter the stimulus-and-response sequences created by the children, using a tablet computer. In the future, the researchers hope to perfect a computer vision system so that children can program the robot simply by holding pages of stickers up to its camera.
The robot amasses individual instructions, adding each one to its database. The MIT researchers say this encourages the children to think about programming in a more modern way, than is generally taught.
“The systems we’re programming today are not sequential, as they were 20 or 30 years back,” Gordon said. “A system has many inputs coming in, complex state, and many outputs.” It’s code creation based on various scenarios, as opposed to a single timeline. “It’s actually how we think about how programs are written before we try to integrate it into a whole programming artifact,” she says. “So I was thinking, ‘Why not try it earlier?’”