KIBO: programming with wooden blocks

KIBO, from KinderLab Robotics, is a clever merger of hands-on building with basic computer science. KIBO grew out of a research program at Tufts’ DevTech Research Group, where it was called KIWI. KIBO is small wheeled robot with a few sensors which kids snap together (and can further decorate). Kids program KIBO by building a linear program out of physical wooden command blocks Scratch blocks and then scanning the barcodes on those blocks with their KIBO unit. The whole process happens without any screens involved.

The block language consists of movement blocks (move, turn, spin) and sensor reporting blocks (light/dark, near/far), along with control structures (conditionals and loops), which enable some pretty sophisticated CS concepts to be introduced. Programming KIBO feels a lot like programming in ScratchJr. The target age range for KIBO (4 – 7) is similar to ScratchJr as well.

My constructed KIBO
My constructed KIBO
I got to play with a KIBO at a recent training workshop conducted by KinderLab Robotics, led by Amanda Sullivan and Amanda Strawhacker of Tufts. It was a lot of fun to program by ordering the physical blocks. The contrast between the hands-on concreteness of the wooden blocks and the abstraction of the program in my head was an interesting aspect, and I think that could be leveraged into an interesting discussion with kids about the design and invention process. In fact, the KinderLab folks suggested introducing the programming by ordering the blocks and then having kids act out the motions, which is a neat way to introduce the syntax and sequencing as well as the leap from the “program” to the actions to be carried out.

The ability to decorate the robot introduces a great art/craft aspect as well. The Tufts DevTech folks have a nice video about a curriculum unit using the robot to support studies of dances in different cultures. KIBO hits a lot of great notes for me: STE(A)M, play, physical representation of programming. I look forward to experimenting with it more!