The Scouts have introduced some new staged activity badges which provide different levels of achievement. One of the new ones they’ve added is the Digital Maker which is all about using making games, programs and robots. The highest stage goes as far as making their own robot using off-the-shelf components, but I was working with the youngest members of the scouts, the Beaver Scouts, so we worked towards stage 1.
I went along to one of our local Beaver Scouts and with the help of my 10 year old daughter we put together some fun and educational sessions.
I split the objectives over 2 nights, the first focussing on computing and computer games and the second robotics. There were about 15 children for each session which were a mix of girls and boys. The girls appeared to enjoy this just as much as the boys.
Session 1 – Computers, Raspberry Pi and computer games
The first session was mainly looking at computers, how they work and how to put one together. The Raspberry Pi was ideal for this as it’s possible to see the actual board including the processor and it was small enough that I could take a few along with me. After explaining some of the parts of a computer we split the group into two and each person in the group got to plug a certain peripheral into the computer and then see if it booted and worked. Which I’m pleased to say worked for both teams.
I then showed them inside of an keyboard by breaking an old keyboard open. On the night I managed to pull the wrong part of the keyboard and sent some keys flying, but that only added to the fun.
We then played a game and talked about how playground games originated and about how computer games are made. We discussed some of the things we’d like to see in a game and the Beavers had chance to think about how they would design their own game.
We finished by looking at websites and what’s happening behind the scenes taking a look at some html. The children then got to make some changes to existing websites. The resources suggest using Google X-ray Goggles, but because we didn’t have any Internet access at the scout meeting place we instead used Google Chrome on some websites I’d saved offline and used the Inspect Element.
This was a little fiddly and not quite so easy as X-ray Googles, but some managed to change the famous Bear Grylls quote on the Scouts website.
Session 2 – Mecannoid, Robots and the SandwichBot
The second session was much more fun hands-on activities. I first brought in Meccanoid (4 foot high Meccanno Robot). After a demo of what Meccanoid could do we talked about what most real robots looked like and introduced the Maplin Robot Arm.
We then had some games to see how difficult it is to “program” a robot. First having the Beavers in pairs take turns at being a robot and a controller and given directions. We then played a SandwichBot game where I acted as a robot following the instructions given by the Beaver Scouts. This was a bit messy and lots of fun, especially when they instructed me to scoop out some butter, but didn’t say to use the knife!
The beavers then had a got at controlling some robots. We split them into two teams one of which used my robot arm control software and a Raspberry Pi Touch Display to control a robot arm to pick up lego, the other team programmed a BeeBot to drive around a circuit. We then swapped over. I did hope to have two robot arms, but the second didn’t arrive in time, but there was just about enough time for each child to have a short go at both the Robot Arm and the BeeBot.
It was fun to run the session and the children appeared to enjoy it – especially the SandwichBot.
It would be a great way for someone with programming or computing experience to work together with their local Beavers (or Cub Scouts). For anyone else interested in doing something similar I’d suggest first enrolling as a STEM Ambassador and then get in touch with a local unit and see if they are interested in you helping out.
Find out more including a activity suggestions at Scouts Digital Maker Badge