Students Involved with Technology Conference

Bee-Bot, Cubelets, littleBits, Makey Makey, Programs, Snap Circuits, The Finch

Our local school district is one of the sites for the Students Involved with Technology Conference that happens in several sites around the state of Illinois.  Kids, parents, and teachers presenting workshops on things they love best. Kid led workshops. Isn’t that great?

The district asked the library if we were willing to provide a maker space for the conference.  With very short notice, we  decided to create a play space for participants to try different technology.  (Maker space? Play space?  Are they the same thing?  I guess I’m not 100% sure of that. They were definitely creating things.)

Given two work days to make this happen, I was able to recruit two co-workers and my husband to spend time with me for four hours on a Saturday afternoon.  I also recruited one of the kids from my Robot Test Kitchen sessions last summer.  

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Robot Test Kitchen Worked for Me: A successful Finch Experience

The Finch

A week ago, I held a large station-style robotics program called “Robot Invasion,” and I introduced several robots and electronics kits including Cubelets, Sphero, LittleBits, Snap Circuits, Snap Circuit Rover, and the Finch. I introduced the Finch to the group as one of the more challenging things there, and said it might be best for someone with a bit of experience with Scratch programming. As I had hoped, one boy ran right up and grabbed the Finch and a laptop. He had used Scratch extensively, and had heard of the Finch but never got a chance to try one.

I’ve found most of the robots to be fairly intuitive, but I haven’t had a lot of time with the Finch. Part of my preparation for the program included reading other Robot Test Kitchen reviews and it was more helpful than I could have imagined. I was able to anticipate and circumvent setup difficulties. We did reach an impasse after installing the programs and downloading the extensions for Scratch — I couldn’t get them to appear in the “More Blocks” menu. I tried to make the best of this by asking the boy, “What do you think we should do?” and he suggested we close Scratch and reopen it from a different menu — and that worked. In very little time he and soon several others were very capably commanding the Finch. They did not seem bothered that it was tethered by the cord.

Finch and Friends

I’ll risk sounding too nerdy and say that reading Robot Test Kitchen reviews helped with this program the way that using a map helped me navigate The Legend of Zelda back when I was a kid; you still have to fight the bad guys, but at least you know how to get to them. Reading about others’ experiences and challenges helped me prepare and problem-solve. Both reviewers recommended this for someone with some coding or Scratch experience, and knowing that up front helped me match it with patrons who could get the most from this experience.

TL;DR: Robot Test Kitchen reviews helped me make good use of my time and improve my patrons’ program experience.

Review: The Finch

Reviews, The Finch

Robot Basics:finch

  • What is it? The Finch Robot is designed for computer science education. It uses a variety of programming languages. See more information here: http://www.finchrobot.com/
  • What’s in the Box? The Finch Robot, cord, and a 1 page instruction sheet.
  • How Much? $99
  • Age Range? The Finch is good for kids who are comfortable with the idea of programming. I would probably say 3rd grade and up.
  • How Did We Acquire it? Through the ILEAD grant funds.

What I tried:

I have not used Finch in a program and I’m not sure if I ever will. My goal with the Finch was just to attempt to figure it out. After reading of Kim’s problems, I wanted to give it a try. I had a similar experience as her kids attempting to make it work.

The Finch requires software downloads and also at least a small understanding of some coding languages. I downloaded Scratch, since that was the program I was most familiar with.

The Finch requires software downloads and also at least a small understanding of some coding languages. I decided to try Scratch, since I had a basic understanding of the program. The Finch also requires you to download certain software depending on what programming language you pick. It definitely takes a little bit to get started. I found their instructions to be incredibly lacking. It felt very much like the designers had not user tested the instructions on us normal folks.

It took a lot of plugging and unplugging of the USB to get the Finch to talk to Scratch. Once it seemed to recognized the software I thought it would be smooth sailing. Incorrect. It was difficult to figure out how to get the Finch specific codes into Scratch. And then once I did, it took me a while to even find a code that worked. When I did look at the examples, (uhh, yeah I know, should have done that first), I thought they were rather weird. The codes worked, but they were not basic things that most people would want The Finch to do – like make it go.

After a big of struggling, I did finally make a program that worked with The Finch and it was exciting when it finally happened. I consider myself an intermediate coder and this was  difficult for me. I do not think The Finch is suitable for beginners at all.

Skills Needed:

To use the Finch you must have some coding skills, familiarity with a programming tool like Scratch, and be patient when it comes to Troubleshooting. You also need some time to figure the thing out.

Good Stuff

I do think you could use The Finch with a coding club, or kids who already have some experience. I don’t think it will be good with kids who are at the beginner stages.

Frustrations

The Finch is very frustrating. It is the most frustrating robot I have worked with yet. What I find even more troubling is how much it has been promoted. It seems to have gotten positive press and while I do think that it has potential – it is not there yet. They need to make sure The Finch is responsive when you first plug it in, and it would be much easier to work with if it was wireless. In the end, I think most kids would get frustrated with The Finch.

Ending Thoughts/Observations

If you have an interested coding club, give it a try. Otherwise, save yourself $99.

Overall Rating

Stinky