Reviewed by Louise Totton
My eldest daughter is what you would call a reluctant learner. She is a very bright girl, but it somehow all seems to fall down a little when it comes to committing pen to paper – it’s like she has a mental block when it comes to paper-based learning. I have lost count of the number of evenings of frustration we have had to contend with when it’s homework night – when we talk about the homework, we’re fine, but when we have to start with writing down her understanding the ‘I can’t do it’ starts almost straight away. I have always thought that she learns far better by doing – she is a kinaesthetic learner and needs to be able to fiddle and grapple with a subject to really get to grips with it. I have always found that is she is able to do that, she is absolutely fine and can not only meet her learning objectives for that task, but also use the understanding she has gleaned to extrapolate and expand her own knowledge. What is needed for learners like my daughter is open-ended resources and tasks – ones that allow her to understand the basics but then run with them and allow them to snowball. Products that do this are actually few and far between – it can be hard enough to integrate an aspect of fun and play into some learning topics, but then adding the open-endedness to that as well, whilst ensuring the basics are taught well is a tall order.
I love learning toys – in fact, I love all things learning related, which probably stems from my previous life as a primary school teacher. Having said that, I gave that all up a few years ago when the job became too political, and these days I work in IT recruitment. Spending every day as I do, surrounded by people who not only make a very good living from software development and coding, but who are also invariably passionate and in love with what they do, it has become increasingly obvious to me that I want my children to have a very good grounding in IT.
There are actually very few women in tech and that’s a real shame, so it seems to me that what we need to do is make coding fun and accessible to all children – to remove the stereotype of coding being for boys and make it a good fun, logical, problem solving pass time. The thing with coding is that it can be that fantastic, open-ended type of activity that I think she will benefit from, but the difficulty is that it does tend to be screen and syntax based, so to the uninitiated or the child who isn’t confident in their abilities, it can be a bit daunting. Having said that, there are more and more resources to make it accessible and interesting, and we were lucky enough to be allowed to try one of them out!
We have had a visitor in our house for the past couple of weeks – Artie 3000 from Educational Insights. Artie is a very cute and cool coding robot, who will take user inputted coded language from the computer screen and translate it onto the page with a pen. Artie aims to make coding not only fun and engaging for children aged 7+, but to also make it literally leap from the computer screen onto the written page and provide them with something concrete that they have created.
The first thing I liked about Artie when we took him out of his box was how cute he is – the kids liked him immediately and he doesn’t look like a learning toy at all. In fact, he looks like an owl – I am utterly convinced that he is an owl with his big, round, wise eyes – and this seems even more obvious given as he seems to have been named after Artemis the wise owl from Greek mythology. My other half, on the other hand, just doesn’t see it at all and is adamant that he is a robot-shaped robot. Humph. Anyhow, whatever Artie looks like, the kids thought he looked great and couldn’t wait to get cracking with him.
The box contains:
- Artie 3000 Wi-Fi-enabled robot
- Marker-parker alignment tool
- 4 different coloured washable marker pens
- 3 activity cards
- Quick start guide
Additional items required are 4xAA batteries and some paper. You can even use your own felt tip pens – our Crayolas fitted perfectly (always use washable ones).
We found Artie to be very easy to setup. After inserting the batteries, it’s just a case of popping the Marker-parker in the slot on Artie’s underside to align the pen. Lift the flap on Artie’s head and insert the felt tip pen into the hole, pushing down until the tip touches the Marker-parker. Switch on and close the flap on his head. The Marker-parker can then be removed and the pen is perfectly aligned.
The next step is to connect your laptop or tablet (it will work on a phone, but the screen size will make it difficult to use). On your computer or tablet, open the network connections and select “Artie” and connect (this is an open local network so no password is required). You should now be connected (your laptop / tablet will have no connection to the internet at the point).
Once Artie is connected to your computer, you need to run the software to be able to use him. This is very easy, and you don’t need to install any software on your computer. It’s as simple as opening your browser and visiting local.codewithartie.com. As well as loading the user interface page on the browser, this also allows the computer to link up with Artie so he can start to put your coding onto paper.
We started out with the basic Artie UI, and I would suggest this is absolutely the way to go. There is no point running before you can walk, and in my experience, it is doing this that can turn a lot of kids off learning about something. The Artie UI is a perfect introduction to coding – it will have the kids (and adults) coding in no time, and you really can start drawing almost straight away. We started off with very simple tasks like drawing straight lines, but even this requires lateral thinking – after the first run and there was nothing on the page, my daughter realised that she hadn’t ‘told’ Artie to put the pen down, so after realising her mistake and correcting the syntax, she was left with the 15cm line that she had told Artie to draw. And that was us – we were away; she knew that she could do it so was happy to sit and tinker with the UI, producing some fabulous work. Once she has seen what the code building blocks were, she was able to apply them to facts that she remembered from her maths lessons at school and draw a square. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a child who says she can’t do stuff, for her to realise that the angles she would need were all 90 degrees, to work out whether turns would be clockwise or anti-clockwise as well as making all of the lines the same length, that’s not bad work for twenty minutes!
The Artie UI also has some pre-set projects too, including an octagon, circle, square and Artie Party, but what I loved is that if you select these, you can see and edit the coding there too, again allowing kids who will learn by tinkering and cause and effect to really understand what they are doing as well as seeing a model for a more complicated string of code.
I think it’s fair to say that we all love Artie and he is a very welcome little guest in our house! My 9-year-old is spot on the right age for him, and I do think that she will continue to be able to use him for several years yet. My 7-year-old is probably the very youngest I would give Artie to – she can just about work on the basic coding with help but doesn’t have a lot of the extra knowledge (like angle size in a square) to get the best from Artie yet. Having said that, he does have a point and click setting, as well as a remote-control mode that are there more for fun than directly educational, and she really likes using him for that. And she has the interest, so will probably progress onto the coding stuff in the next year or so.
Artie really is a super little chap, and I would absolutely recommend him to any parent who wants to encourage their child with coding, or even just logical thinking and problem solving. He’s fun, smart and very addictive – even my other half gets him out on occasion to see what he can do!
For more information or to buy visit www.learningresources.co.uk.