Teaching kids robotics in Huaycán, Peru by John Michael Zorko
When I was about 13, I discovered computer programming. I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a valuable skill, I just thought it was fun and still do.
When I first had the opportunity to volunteer in Huaycan, Peru with The Light and Leadership Initiative – a small NGO whose mission is to improve the lives of women and children in Huaycán by providing free education in English and other core skills – I discovered that these kids were curious, capable, and far smarter than I ever was at their age. I asked the NGO if I could return to teach the kids how to code, and they loved the idea.
That was in 2014, and I’ve returned almost every year to spend the month of August in Huaycán, continuing to teach. At first, I taught them Scratch, a very popular and kid-friendly programming language from MIT where computer code is created with on-screen blocks that connect together. Scratch is a great way for kids to learn the basic concepts of programming and computer science, and it turned out to be so popular with the kids in Huaycán that the NGO now teaches it all year.
This past August, I thought it would be cool to teach the kids who have been through Scratch something a bit more advanced, which is where Cue enters the story.
Cue is a robot developed by Wonder Workshop for the purpose of teaching kids how to code.
I ended every class with a robot race, where the kids had to create a computer program to make the robots follow a certain course and do certain things.
The first class was about learning to make the robots move and turn, so the objective of the first race was to make the robot move as fast as they can towards a wall, then turn around and come back. For the second class, where the kids learned about loops, the objective of the race was to complete a certain number of laps.
Every race grew more advanced as the kids learned how to write more advanced code, so when they learned conditionals, the race objective was to complete a certain number of laps but change the color of the robots lights on certain laps, and when they learned events, the race objective was to detect a wall in front of the robot and only then turn around to complete another lap.
When they learned variables and arrays, the race objective included changing the pattern on the robots face with every lap. I found that the kids loved racing the robots, so it really incentivized them to understand the programming concepts being taught. They each did wonderfully!
My experiences teaching programming to kids have made me realize that there are kids are smart, capable and love to learn new things, regardless of what part of the world they live in or how many resources they have. If you would like to volunteer in Peru to teach these kids programming / robotics / English / math / art, please check out the volunteer opportunities available at Light and Leadership