Robots and second graders

I’ve just been volunteered to use my garage full of electronics and manufacturing gear to help a group of Brownies get their Robotics badge. Alternately very excited and terrified.

Has anyone done this kind of activity who might have some advice? I’m off to search Pinterest and the usual suspects, but I wanted to reach out to the community here for some other ideas. :raised_hands: :raised_hands: :raised_hands:


I had my 2nd grade scouts build a cardboard robot arm with syringe activators. I had all the pieces cut and pictures of it put together and I let them figure it out(with guidance). My wife and the parents thought I was nuts but the boys did really great. the second meeting I set up challenges to accomplish using the arm. They all had a blast and the parents too! Kids can do so much if given the space.


Yeah, she does that to me all the time… :no_mouth:
Perhaps you could use your robot to cut a series of gears that actuate something with a crank where the components need to be assembled on a platform of some kind.

Hehehe, we all know that feeling. I am currently experiencing that regarding buying an expensive new car.


My wife and I tend to refer to “being volunteered” having been “voluntold” :wink:


I had my Brownies make bristle bots (we also played with HexBugs), although this was before the robotics badge. If it were now, I’d be in better shape because we have a bunch of programmable bots around the house.

FWIW, the Brownie badge has basically NO electronics or tech in it at all. It’s all fluff. I am unhappy about the new badges and the minimal amount of hands-on STEM involved in them. I know that not everyone has the skills necessary to do them justice, but it would help to give more ideas for those people who do. rant off

Are you doing the whole badge or just a portion?


Tagging @cmreeder (who is a Boy Scout den mother - or whatever they’re called). She may have some good ideas for you :slight_smile:


my first thought was what @tom was talking about. Using syringes as hydraulics.
For simple machines I love a good trebuchet, and so do the youngsters.
Your toaster is a simple robot… there’s a specific job that it does; but it’s programmable and it acts according to that programming.
If you have a garage full of electronics and manufacturing gear and you know how to use it, the real trick is keeping the brownies engaged and having fun, and pretty cool if they have a take-home after the fact.


I don’t know what the badge would require but has a pretty straightforward and neat robotic hand project (free to use) that is probably close to the right level of challenge.

(Full disclosure: although I don’t work on the Education Workshop team, I am an Microsoft employee in a nearby team…)


many of my cow-orkers (Dilbert spelling) love being “voluntold” to do something at work :slight_smile:


I don’t know the requirements for that badge, but It doesn’t have to be complicated and should not involve an amount of time where you lose the attention of that age group.

The best thing I ever did for that age group as part of a geology course was to show them how glacial kettle features were made during Continental and Mountain glacial epochs.

I had the kids take a paper cup filled with dirt then bury an ice cube in the dirt. We then visited a kettle and when we returned from the hike, the ice cube melted and they had created a kettle. They loved it.

Simple is best.

P.S. I was terrified too when asked to something related to geology and geomorphology!!! Had no idea what to do, but was way overthinking what to do, then my wife came up with the ice cube idea.


Sounds like the perfect opportunity to stage your own battlebots tournament in your driveway.


I will find out more about what is needed for the badge. I haven’t talked with our troop leaders yet, just got a note from a friend letting me know I’d been drafted into service, hehe. And you can rant about the watering down of STEM activities to me anytime.

These are all amazing ideas, thank you. I actually have one of the manual hydraulic arms assembled in the garage. My kids were obsessed with it for a long time and clearly I should bring it back down again (and actuate it!).

@jeffreykrauss thank you so much for that link, that’s terrific.

@timtsuga your wife is a creative genius. The overthinking part is always what gets me…


I think one of the keys of the badge at that age is understanding how robots take instructions. You can have them practice issuing instructions for you to do something (like make a sandwich or build a tower of blocks) and you follow them quite literally so they start to understand how computer instructions need to be clear and complete. Or you could ask @dan for a copy of Robot Turtles!

One other thing that could be fun would be to assign each girl a robot part (maybe with props), such as hands/pincers, brain/computer, sensors, legs/wheels, etc., and have them complete tasks as a group. It would be silly, but it would get them thinking about the parts of a robot.

Those are low-tech hands-on things to tackle. For better STEM activity ideas, check out Tinker Crates. They are really good at taking complex (and not so complex) STEM ideas an turning them into projects that are kid-friendly and fun. They have a blog, but some of their crates might also provide inspiration. They had a walking robot crate, a flapping bird, and a biomechanical hand to name a few. And they have videos for each one that might give you ideas. Here’s a drawing “robot” that is perfect for that age: (in the same vein as the bristle bots).

This is kind of my passion, as you can’t tell, but I’ll leave it there for now.


My boys went through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. At times we had kids in both so we were seeing the difference in requirements between each group. The overall approach is that the younger group gets points for participation but effort and execution is required for the older kids. It makes some sense because of age & competency in each group. Lots of kids it’s “dumbed down” but they have to create programs that are good for kids from special needs to kid genius. The advisor who is teaching the skill has latitude to make the more capable kids challenged as long as they teach the minimum.


Boy Scouts isn’t the issue so much as Girl Scouts. The activities are all watered down, regardless of age. You can up the ante if you want, but by not including the more hands on material in the badge requirements, there’s little incentive for the average troop leader to do so. I understand that they would rather have the girls introduced to watered down STEM than none at all, but I wish they would give people the tools to take it further. I think that women are generally less likely to dive into an engineering topic they have no background in than men are, so GS really needs to provide concrete activity ideas.


The first computer programing course I took in the mid 1960’s started with the instructor having us write a list of instructions, in plain English, for tying our shoes. He then sat in front of the class and as each student read their instruction list, he exercised that command.

It was hilarious and a great exercise for understanding how computers work!!! It also illustrated how “dumb or literal” computers are, how difficult it is to write clear instructions, how a programming language has to break down complexity and lastly, how brilliant people are who develop programming languages.

Don’t know if you like reading “computer books” but if you do, a must read is ‘Soul of a New Machine’ by Tracy Kidder about the development of the Data General Eclipse computer. The company pitted two development teams against one another, the “old guard” developers vs the “new kids”.

It won a Pulitzer Prize and the Data General Eclipse was one of the best computers I ever used.

The book is a great read.


I vaguely remember that, from my very brief Girl Scout career. The Boy Scouts got to do 'way cooler stuff. We mostly talked about stuff we were going to do that never happened, and maybe colored things. And then my dad arrested my troop leader and that was the end of it.

(I didn’t know that was why, at the time…but I don’t remember being terribly upset that I wasn’t in Girl Scouts any more.)


Aaaand this is why my girls are now in cub scouts. I did a skipping dance of Joy when the Boy scouts of America let in girls. It’s just a more robust program… though it has also been watered down over the years. :frowning:
So then it’s a matter of finding the pack or troop that is focused on doing cool stuff rather than the one that is trying to get all the awards as fast as possible. That’ll be the case with Boy scouts or girl scouts, though. If you can’t find it, build it.


Yeah, don’t you hate it when that happens?


OOooh that art bot is excellent! Thank you, truly, this is super helpful. I’ve raised my eyebrows with a couple of the badges so far, like they are all pretty fluffy and watered down. There was a “snack” badge that had nothing to do with nutrition, that sort of thing. Don’t get me started on the time they did a dance routine. I totally agree with everything you are saying about how GS could do better, I guess it isn’t a competency many other moms have in this troup (read: none), which is how I got drafted. My daughter would be just as happy not doing Brownies I think, but we’ll try it for one more year. Thanks for the perspective elevating the background for women in engineering - I am inspired to work super hard for them now.

That is quite the story about your troop leader, @geek2nurse. I’m honestly not sure if I want to know more!