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The Robot Factory by Tinybop
Pros: Classic, dazzling graphics and student-driven open-ended play.
Cons: Guiding manual is not out yet, and some students may prefer more direction or depth.
Bottom Line: A well-made and enjoyable STEM app that leverages what's great about play -- experimentation -- to spark engineering interest.
Teachers can use this app with their students as open-ended exploration and play that can lead to learning about engineering design. They can challenge students to create the best robots for specific types of terrain, and then for a wider variety of terrain. The forthcoming manual will also include plenty of discussion questions and will help direct learning. There's a natural connection to the types of activities students will do in The Robot Factory and what will be required in experiments and engineering design activities in science classes, especially those implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. If students enjoy The Robot Factory, teachers might encourage them to branch out to more complex creation platforms like Algodoo or Minecraft and apply the same processes of design thinking they've learned.
The Robot Factory starts by having students create their own custom profile, where they can choose their name and the color and style of their icon. They can then immediately jump into designing a robot in the Robot Factory, choosing robot parts such as the torso, head, arms and legs, hands, facial features, and color scheme. All of these parts can be arranged as students choose, as there are many different attachment points on the robot's torso. Students can also record three different types of greetings for their robot, and the app changes their voice to a higher pitch with a robotic tone.
From there, students can save their robot to their collection, but can go back and edit it at any time. They can also bring their robot into the "real world," where they navigate over and around different obstacles. Some robot parts will perform better on certain terrain than others, so students can try out different combinations, changing out robot parts, creating new robots, and testing more. Will the robots survive or break up in the terrain? Students can also pull a red lever for the app to take a photo of the robot, saving it to the camera roll without any of the extra screen clutter.
With this app, students can design robots on their own, directing their own creation ideas and styles. Their experimentation in robot design will help them learn, through trial and error, which robot parts work best on which kind of terrain. Since students can then edit their robots, they can continually upgrade their designs. The robot movements are physics-based, so testing is realistic. The playful setting and design make this a great introduction to engineering concepts and skills, especially design thinking and iteration.