From Fakebot to Bee-Bot

By Jane Waite and Pam Popay. Posted

A pupil uses a Bee-Bot: can you spot the Barefoot Fakebot to the side?

As a resource to help pupils learn to program, the Bee-Bot floor robot has been a success in primary classrooms and clubs in the UK. A present-day simplified version of Seymour Papert’s Logo turtle robot, the plastic device looks like a 20-cm bee with a smiling face, bright colours, and simple buttons on its back to control its motion. Over three quarters of a million units have been sold by the education providers TTS since the product’s launch in the early 2000s, with other similar products on the market also being used by educators. 

Each Bee-Bot has a left and a right button, and straight on and reverse buttons, which can be combined to write a program which, when run, causes the robot to move around the room. There is also a Clear button and a Go button. The Go button executes the sequence of commands that were most recently entered since the last time Clear was pressed. The Clear button wipes the device’s memory, and if it’s switched off, the memory is also cleared. 

The birth of Fakebots

In 2013, Pam Popay and a colleague at BT were spending a lot of their time developing and trialling resources to support the newly proposed computing curriculum in schools in Suffolk. When they discovered that all the schools they were visiting had Bee-Bots, it seemed obvious that they should develop some resources to be used with the devices which could support the delivery of the new intended computing curriculum across different year groups.

The BT team started with ‘having a go’ sessions that introduced children to the Bee-Bots. Rather than randomly playing with the device, pupils were encouraged to think like scientists and examine what each button did. By doing this more guided activity, the students gradually discovered the functionality of the Bee-Bot. 

As the team from BT developed more tasks, they realised that students needed a way to record their planned sequence of instructions: it was hard for children to debug their intended instructions without it. After experimenting with different methods they introduced a set of arrow cards along with Go and Clear. These were used by the children to construct a command list, which could then be tested. Finally, when students thought that the sequence was correct, they were then given the Bee-Bot to program. However, it soon became clear that the physical robot was a distraction from the thinking process and that pupils wanted to use trial and error instead of thinking ahead to work out the solution to the problem. 

During a lesson break, Pam had an idea. She found some card in the classroom, drew around a Bee-Bot, and added buttons and a smiley face. She then introduced this paper-based representation of a Bee-Bot to the class. Pupils were now asked to complete activities with the card bee, while the Bee-Bots rested safe in their beehive. One of the students in that class called the card bee a ‘Fakebot’, and this is what they have been called since. 

The original Fakebots are still pinned to Pam’s noticeboard in BT

Pupils used the Fakebot to test their planned sequence of commands. They worked in teams: one pupil was the sequence designer and could organise the sequence of commands using the arrow cards, and another pupil controlled the Fakebot, using it to test the arrow card command sequence. Once the team thought all was well, they could collect a real Bee-Bot and a third member of each team, the programmer, entered the commands into it. The group then waited to see what happened. During this time, they followed the arrow card sequence as the Bee-Bot moved around. 

Through working with Fakebots, Pam has recognised several essential features that can impact on their successful use. Firstly, they must be the correct size so that their tested movements are relatively accurate. Secondly, depending on the activity, it can be useful to have Bee-Bots with distinguishing features, such as different eyes, so that each group knows which Fakebot is theirs. Thirdly, if required, a Fakebot can have L (left) and R (right) written on them to help children recall vocabulary for discussing movement. 

Fakebots as a widespread resource

Around the time of introducing Fakebots in teaching resources, Pam shared her findings about the Fakebot with Jane Waite, who was very excited by the idea. Both Pam and Jane were involved in the development of the Barefoot Computing programme at the time, and included Fakebots in the Barefoot resources. Set up by BT and Computing at School, Barefoot helps to empower primary school teachers across the UK to deliver the computing curriculum brilliantly with free and engaging lesson plans, online guides, and workshops. 

It would be fantastic to hear how educators are using Fakebots in their classrooms and how they affect pupil learning. Please share your experiences with Jane Waite on Twitter.

Bee-Bot is a trade mark registered in the UK by RM Education Limited.

Fakebot resources

You can find Fakebot activities such as Barefoot’s Bee-Bot Basics Activity and Bee-Bots 1, 2, 3 Programming, at barefootcomputing.org along with a range of other downloadable resources that help bring computing to life in the classroom. 

Bee-Bots and Fakebots are also used in resources from the Teach Computing Curriculum and TTS


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