May 28, 2017

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Tiny Ozobot Gets Kids into Block-based Programming | Test Drive

Worcester students work with Ozobot.

Worcester students work with Ozobot.

Whoa! This robot is small! That was my reaction when I opened the package containing my Ozobot Bit and Ozobot Starter Pack. The device fit easily in the palm of my hand.

So what is this mini marvel? A fun new tool designed to draw kids into learning programming. How it accomplishes that is pretty innovative. Using sensors, Ozobot traces patterns and designs. Different color combinations signal it to go faster, slower, left, right, and so on. Rather than Bluetooth, Ozobot uses optics to calibrate its sensors and load programs via phone, tablet, or laptop. Ozobot is for all ages and abilities, able to work with paper and markers as well as block programming.

TWO PRODUCT OPTIONS For learning the basics, the Ozobot Starter Pack ($49.95) is ideal. It includes an Ozobot; red, green, blue, and black markers (though any thick, washable marker will work); activity sheets; two skins; stickers; and a USB charger. The activity sheets have predrawn patterns that will clearly demonstrate to first-time users how Ozobot moves based on color combinations and shapes. If you run out of sheets, you can print more at the Ozobot website or experiment with your own patterns using ordinary white paper.

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Your other choice is the Ozobot Bit ($59.95; $114.95 for two). It works the same way as the Ozobot in the starter pack, but it can also be programmed at Ozoblockly.com, providing more options for educational use. Bit comes with a skin and USB cable.

Both the starter pack and Bit can be purchased at Shop.Ozobot.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

HOW TO DECIDE BETWEEN THEM The OzoBlockly website (OzoBlockly.com) has games and coding tools designed primarily for use with the pricier Bit. Built with Google’s Blockly, a visual programming platform, OzoBlockly.com offers five different experience levels to help students with a wide range of abilities learn visual programming. Similar to other block programming tools such as Scratch and Tickle, OzoBlockly.com has users drag-and-drop commands into a work space to come up with games, patterns, and/or paths. Students can create their own games or patterns or use existing challenges and examples to explore programming movement, light effects, loops, and logic. You can load the program directly from a browser by holding your Bit up to the screen.

If, after buying the starter pack, you start to wish you had access to the programming website, you can purchase an upgrade. For $9.99, an account is set up for your specific starter pack. You’ll need to log into that account before you’ll be able to use OzoBlockly.com.

THE APPS ASPECT Two free apps can make the user experience even more fun. OzoGroove (iOS 6.0 or higher and Android) features dance and choreography games. Load Ozobot with demo dances like the OzoChaCha or OzoCountry, or create your own choreography using the dance editor time line. Add music from your personal device or select songs from the OzoGroove Library.

The Ozobot app (iOs 6.0 or higher and Android) allows users to play games directly on the surface of a tablet. Three games are included: OzoDraw, OzoPath, and OzoLuck. Draw, navigate mazes, and solve logic exercises, alone or in a group.

VERDICT Affordable and easy to use, Ozobot is a great addition to library maker spaces and classrooms. Students can use the tiny robots to create games and better understand coding and logic. After I showed my students Ozobot, they instantly wanted paper and markers. They soon discovered that lines too thin or too close together make the robot stop. After a few tries, they had created a multicolored pattern on several pieces of paper and delighted at seeing Ozobot trace it.

Visit the Education section of Ozobot.com to access the Lesson Library for ideas for kindergarten through 12th grade written by educators and Ozobot staff. Introductory lessons demonstrate the basics of how Ozobot and OzoCode work. For deeper connections using Ozobot for STEM and ELA curricula, the Lesson Library offers 25 options, from multiplication table practice to Ozobot theater. Introduce Ozobot to your students and see what they create! Ozobot welcomes teachers and librarians to submit their own lesson plans.

Jennifer Hanson is director of library services at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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