Week Two: Computer Programming Unplugged


March 14, 2015 by WittyLibrarian

Lifesize Maze

Program Title: Tween Science Explorers: Computer Programming Unplugged

Target Age Range: Grades 4-6

Program Length: 90 minutes

Brief Description: Learn the foundation of simple computer programming without using computers.



Yarn or Pipe cleaners


Scotch Tape

Masking Tape


3 Buckets

3 Balls

Simple Puzzle to build



Various Handouts

Cost: $0-50

Advanced Preparation: Create maze on programming room floor with masking tape. Print out handouts ahead of time.

Program Outline:

  1. Explain binary. CodeConquest has a good explanation to use as a reference.
  2. Play Harold the Robot and explain programming language. Refer back to Microsoft’s resource for further information on subject.
  3. Introductions
  4. Explain basics of computer programming. Microsoft has a clear and concise explanation to use as a reference.
  5. Play My Friend Robot.
  6. Play Robot Maze Runner/Make Binary Bracelets. Run these two components in tandem.


  • Play Harold the Robot:
    • Using simple puzzles or blocks, have the children decide as a group how to program Harold to build the desired object.Burger Puzzle
    • For our purposes, we used a Build-a-Burger puzzle to build with Harold. To aid in coding, and to emphasis the nature of program coding, we also numbered each burger piece (i.e. tomato was #3, the top bun #7, etc.). As a group, the children decided in which order the burger should be built, and worked together to figure out how to direct Harold to build the burger in language he could understand. Afterwards, we discussed what instructions Harold did and did not understand, as well as why this was. Refer back to Microsoft’s resource for further information on simple programming language.
  • My Friend Robot
    • Link above outlines entire activity. For our program, we made the following adjustments:
      • First, we demonstrated how to play My Friend Robot with “Harold” from above activity, having Harold build a structure out of cups this time. This allowed as to explain the various directions/code that Harold was programmed to understand (i.e. Pick Up/Put Down, Move 1 space to the left).
      • Next, we split the children into teams of three. One person was the robot, the other two were coders.
      • While two children worked on the code, the third child (the robot) left the group to learn how to be a robot from the instructors, as well as to practice writing code themselves. The robots stayed away from their teams’ coders until the coders were ready for their robots to test the code they had written.
      • To aid in the concept of moving the cup a half-width, we created a spacing line for the children to follow; See handout for reference. We also created a programming sheet for coders to use to record their code; See handout below. Cup patterns are included in the My Friend Robot instructions.
  • Robot Maze Runner
    • The concept of Robot Maze Runner is to have the children code a path for a robot to walk through a life-size maze. Within the maze, the robots had to collect an object and deliver it to a designated station in another part of the maze. The maze was created using masking tape outlines on the floor of the program room. The objects were glowing bouncy balls, and the stations were labeled buckets.
    • The children were divided into groups of three; two as coders, one as a robot.
    • While coders worked on the code, the robot made a binary bracelet. See below for further details.
    • Coders were given a paper map of the maze to use as a reference while coding, as well as a coding sheet. There were three variations of the map, each with different objectives, so the groups could send three robots into the maze with different results.
  • Binary Bracelets.
    • The robots from Robot Maze Runner made bracelets with their initials in binary, while waiting for their coders to code. Each new group of robots received the following explanations:
      • Binary. CodeConquest has a good explanation to use as a reference.
      • What first and last initials are. There was much confusion regarding what initials meant, so this was a necessary step.
    • Children made the bracelets using either yarn or pipe cleaners, and strung an alternating pattern of beads, according to their initials in binary. See handout for further instructions and alphabetical binary code.
    • If using yarn, have scotch tape on hand to wrap around the end of the yarn; it makes stringing beads more manageable.
    • Have baggies on hand to bag up unfinished bracelets


My Friend Robot Programming Code Sheet

Cup Spacing Line

Robot Maze Runner Maze A

Robot Maze Runner Maze B

Robot Maze Runner Maze C

Robot Maze Runner Programming Sheet

Binary Bracelets Instruction and Code

Resources Used:



Harold the Robot

My Friend Robot

Basic Maze image (we adapted and redrew this maze to fit the parameters of our room and the specifications of our program).

What we would do differently: This program ran perfectly. It was incredibly popular with both the children and their parents, and we had multiple request to rerun this exact same program. Our only tweak might be to lengthen the session, as the children wanted more time to run the maze.

Adaptation for older/younger audience: We have run this program for 1st-3rd grade, eliminating Robot Maze Runner, and creating binary bracelets as a group at the end of the program. While the program ran relatively smoothly, we encountered issues with the children being unable to draw arrows. To aid this, next time it would be advised to print out multitudes of code symbols (arrows, etc.) to paste onto the code programming sheet. The binary bracelets required a lot of hands-on help as well, and we recommend using pipe cleaners as opposed to yarn for the bracelets as they are more easily strung.

For an older audience, we suggest eliminated Harold the Robot, and start with My Friend the Robot. We would also suggest adding in the more complicated cup patterns. Older children could also make more intricate binary jewelry.

2 thoughts on “Week Two: Computer Programming Unplugged

  1. […] older/younger audience: Some aspects of this program were initially used in a tween program we did: Computer Programming Unplugged. That program works so well that we’ve already done it three […]

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