J’ai un petit train en bois

15 February 2015

This song (“I have a little wooden train”), well-known to schoolchildren in Western Switzerland, is also the basis of a module that IIL 12ème classes (5 year-olds) just finished.

Traditional teaching objectives combined with an introduction to programming were taught simultaneously with the help of “Thymio” the robot.

The sequence used by our 12ème French students was developed by Professor Gordana GERBER of EPLF, who took inspiration from a programming module used by the British National Curriculum. The exercises for Thymio the robot were created by professor Christophe BARRAUD. Project THOOL, from the EPFL website, supplies the circuits used to operate the robots as well as many suggestions for their use.

Using these resources, Irène Butor from IIL’s IT Department and Isabelle Lacraz, French primary coordinator, designed ways to integrate the robots into 12ème teacher Marie-Claude Forel’s lesson based around the song “I have a Little Wooden Train”.

The song introduces children to the different forms a train can take, either wooden, steam or electric.

The Thymio robots are first introduced to the students as neutral and individual objects, having the remarkable capacity of following a track drawn on a panel placed on the ground. Gradually, the students discover that Thymio robots can collaborate together and that they can take the form of a wooden, steam or electric train.

Using the robots’ different operational methods, key concepts of programming are introduced: for instance, how an object behaves when put into different modeled situations.

Once the different train forms have been studied, the robots return to their neutral state and students then discover that they are capable of avoiding obstacles as well as responding to audio-visual stimuli.

During the entire activity, children constantly improve their know-how and expertise through the various exploration exercises.

The use of robots transforms the song into something that is animated and 3-dimensional.

The logic that children must apply for operating the robots is the same that they will need to use when they learn programming.

This exercise demonstrates the importance at IIL of introducing the latest IT tools: the goal being to ensure that our students benefit directly from technology improvements, not only those helping them to acquire skills they will need for the future, but also those improving learning.