Remember when we envisioned a tech-driven future where robots lived alongside humans? The future is now as inventions like Roomba, Aibo the robotic dog and robot caregivers are created to improve people’s lives.

Robotics is emerging as a “pillar in American innovation,” according to National Robotics Week. And it’s fueling the next-generation of products and applications in fields like manufacturing, healthcare, national defense and security, agriculture and transportation.

Introducing robotics to your students can help foster important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts and inspire them to pursue a career in STEM fields. And the key to understanding robotics is learning programming, or coding, which controls what a robot does or says.

To help you get started, we’ve rounded up a few low-tech robotics activities that you can easily try in your afterschool program:

Program a Friend

This interactive activity reinforces the importance of iterative testing in coding. Iterative testing is the process programmers use to test, fix and retest programs for robots. To program a friend, students will build an obstacle course and guide their blindfolded partner through the maze using step-by-step instructions.

Did she hit an obstacle? Change the instructions and try again. Have students repeat this process until their partner makes it all the way through the maze without hitting anything.

Cubelets Robot Blocks

Looking for a robotics activity that will spark students’ imagination?  The Cubelets Six kit is a perfect tool for exploring robotics! The kit includes six Cubelets that can be snapped together to make over 500 different robots with no programming and no wires.  

How does it work? Each Cubelet has a tiny computer inside of it and it “talks” to its neighbor. Therefore, Cubelets automatically route power and data where needed so students can create with abandon.

DIY Wigglebot

Technically this is not a robot because it doesn’t have a controller or computer chip. But this homemade wigglebot is still a fun way to bring robotics into your program! This little “robot” is simply a cup with marker legs that vibrates and spins due to the motor being off balance. And as it jiggles around on a piece of paper it makes interesting designs.

Cubetto the Wooden Robot

If you teach younger students, then the Primo™ Cubetto Children’s Programmable Robot Playset is a great way to introduce them to coding. Cubetto is a kid-friendly wooden robot that teaches kids how to code through hands-on play. Using an interface board, students can guide Cubetto across a world map by placing coding blocks in the correct sequence. The best part? You won’t need a computer for this activity!

If-Then Coding Game

For this coding activity, students will only need their bodies and minds. The If-Then Coding Game explores the If-Then statement, which is one of the most basic parts of computer programming. The conditional statement commands a program to do something if one condition exists.

Each round, one student is the Programmer and everyone else is a Computer. The Programmer stands in front of the Computers and gives them his command.  If I ____ (fill in the blank), then you _____ (fill in the blank). For example, “If I turn in a circle, then you turn in a circle.” Make the game more challenging by introducing other types of statements:

  • If I Do This, Then You Do That
  • If I Do This, Then You Do That, Else You Do Something Else
  • If-Then-Else Speed Round with Eliminations

For more robotics activities and resources, check out nationalroboticsweek.org