Monday, 15 October 2018

Action Challenge Accessory Set for Botley The Coding Robot - Review


This is an accessory set to accompany Learning Resources's 'Botley', see our previous review here: Botley Coding Robot

Review by Phil Wickins from Run Don't Walk

Disclaimer: This set was sent to us by Learning Resources to review, all opinions are our own.


What's in the box

The 40 piece accessory set contains everything you need to create the 'chain reaction' challenges, plus two special arm 'pusher' attachments for Botley and an instruction manual. The set does not contain Botley the Coding Robot.


The set is aimed at children age 5+ (Botley is aimed at children between 5 and 9 years old).




Getting Started


Cleverly, the instruction manual is mainly pictorial, showing actual photographs of possible set ups and scenarios, thus being accessible for children of any reading ability. My children who took to this set straight away (age 8 and 4) began setting it up instantly from their favourite picture in the instructions. This did require a lot of patience on their part; balance and fine motor skills are also needed.

A large, flat, stable surface is required to be able to not only set up the challenges, but also to allow enough room for starting the chain reaction. You may also need extra room if you are attempting some of the more difficult challenges, where a ball or Botley himself is required to travel some distance to then trigger/ continue the reaction. I'd recommend a smooth hard floor, which can't be bumped like a table (trust me; this can infuriate your children if they've spent a long time setting it up only for you to knock it down as you walk past!).


To Botley, or not to Botley?

This accessory set is simply based on the old principle of falling dominoes (anyone remember domino rally as a kid??). The simplicity of it, with the addition of some exciting ramps and moving parts, makes this an instant hit with my children. The idea behind the set is to introduce the concept of chain reactions. The link to Botley, is that you code the robot to start those reactions. So, with that said, the accessory set actually works really well as a stand alone product; my children seemed quite happy to start off the chain reactions themselves, quickly learning how to make adjustments and try more daring set ups.

Once they'd had a few attempts, I then reinforced the suggestion of getting Botley the robot to start off the chain reaction. My 4 year old then lost interest, but my 8 year old then became engaged on a whole different level! He had never used Botley before, but realised it worked on the same concepts as the BeeBots in his school, which he remembered using back in Year 1. It literally took him twenty seconds to figure out how to program Botley with a movement routine and set him off on his course.

So then the task began of setting up the chain reaction and attempting to get Botley to start it, either by tipping the first tile or using one of the other components. He quickly realised it was either a case of trial an error to get Botley into the correct starting position, or he could reverse program him - put him in the start position to trigger the reaction, give him a load of commands (starting with 'reverse') to move him away from that position, set up the tile pieces and then program the commands in reverse order (ending with 'forward'). Botley was actually fairly accurate in getting back to his original position!


What does it teach kids?

It teaches patience, fine motor skills and encourages creativity. If you're able to enter into a dialogue with your child during play, you could discuss the concepts of cause and effect and chain reactions. By simply playing with this set independently, unless they have a wide range of vocabulary and can articulate themselves well, I feel it would require some open questioning and prompting by an adult to reach this level of understanding. Nonetheless, the children very quickly discover what works, what doesn't, and how to improve their project to invoke more challenge, longer reactions and bigger 'wow' moments! Hence they are grasping the idea of chain reactions without the need for any technical language. It would be up to you to consolidate the learning for them by adding the finer details and vocabulary.



Verdict

This set, although similar something you could set up with objects from your own home (and you'll find is a competitive trend on YouTube), is well made and designed for small fingers, with the perfect amount of stability (so that children can set it up without being 'rock balancing' masters) and instability (so that the chain reaction flows nicely once started).

It holds its own as a stand alone kit, and also increases the longevity of Botley as an extra add on. Personally, I'd encourage children to add in other household items or obstacles to increase the chain reaction magnitude (something that is suggested in the instructions). Maybe Learning Resources should open a competition to upload the most impressive "Chain Reaction Challenge"?

The only improvement I'd love to see, to add an element of learning, would be to have a magnetic component included in this set. The tiles could possibly weigh a little more, adding to the inertia which may improve the flow of the reaction. However it does come with some very funky stickers (funny faces) which gives personality to the components!




National Curriculum Links (United Kingdom):


Year 3 Science (Forces and Magnets)


  • compare how things move on different surfaces
  • notice that some forces need contact between two objects, but magnetic forces can act at a distance

Year 5 Science (forces)


  • explain that unsupported objects fall towards the Earth because of the force of gravity acting between the Earth and the falling object
  • identify the effects of air resistance, water resistance and friction, that act between moving surfaces
  • recognise that some mechanisms, including levers, pulleys and gears, allow a smaller force to have a greater effect.



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