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Robot Dance-Off

KS2, KS3

Core National Curriculum links

Science, Computing, DT, Maths

Main engineering principles

  • Pupils are engaged in the purposeful practical problem solving
  • Pupils take ownership of the design and make process
  • Pupils embrace and learn from failure
  • Pupils’ curiosity and creativity is responded to
  • Pupils demonstrate mastery from other curriculum areas
  • Pupils draw on a range of thinking skills and personal capabilities


A series of lessons


System thinking, Adapting, Problem finding, Creative problem solving, Visualising, Improving

EDP stages

Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve

Resources required

Depending on availability. Our project used Raspberry Pis which were attached by ourselves to a simple wheeled chassis, and programmed using Python. Pi2Go robots now offer a similar pre-built device.
The project could also be done using Arduino or Crumble board with appropriate software, or more simply using Lego Mindstorms.
At a very basic level, a Beebot's shell could also be adapted to provide a similar, albeit more angular outcome.

Summary of activity

Longer-term project in which pupils work together in small groups to programme a robot / moving toy to dance. At a basic level, this may look like a dancing 'car', but can be expanded to include D&T by building an outer shell for the robot. Music can also be composed through ICT and used to extend.

To open the activity

Introduce the challenge. Groups will need to build a working robotic car that needs to move according to a specific programme and 'dance' to music. Add a competitive element by pitting teams against each other, against other classes, or even as a transition project between schools.

The main activity

The following is a guide to a six-week cross-curricular STEM project, which is great for covering many objectives, especially as a post-SATs transition project.  This can be adapted by reducing the D&T input, and focusing more on the programming aspects. The project involves many aspects of english and maths through coding, instructional writing and further cross-curricular links can be made by creating a 'story' behind the build. 

Lesson 1: Junk Modelling. (Creative Problem Solving / Problem Finding)
Teams to build a working model 'car' using junk materials to test and evaluate building techniques and explore the strengths and weaknesses of different design elements. Encourage the breaking apart of the models following evaluation and re-building to improve.
Lesson 2: Design & Build. (Adapting / Improving)
Reflect critically on the pros and cons of designs. Use these to design an aesthetic 'body' or shell which can fit onto a programmable chassis without having too great an impact on the weight or movement. 
Lesson 3: Computing (Visualising / Systems thinking /Adapting / Improving)
Following on from other pre-learning involving programming and coding, pupils to begin to create a programme / code which will make the wheeled chassis move in a series of forward & backwards moves, with greater flexibility dependent on the hardware / software being used. Codes will need to be written, tested and evaluated before completion.
Lesson 4/5: Completion
At this point, further sessions can be differentiated whereby more-able designers continue with the make and build elements whilst stronger coders explore the computing aspects. A further extension for groups is to use a music editing software (eg Garage Band / Audacity) to create their own musical compositions to dance to.
Lesson 6: Testing and Evaluation
Test the designs, evaluate and make changes if possible. Compete.

Challenge and support

Mixed ability groups work best within this model, in that pupils' outputs can be further differentiated later through inclusion in DT / Computing aspects.
Use initial junk-modelling sessions as assessment of pupils' problem-solving capabilities, and be flexible with groupings following this.
Depending on the hardware / software being used, pupils will need a greater level of input in the skills / processes involved before these sessions begin. Introducing the more able to using Python whilst the less able explore Scratch or Kodu software is an option for extending the more able.

To finish the activity

Following the 'celebration' event where devices are tested, encourage evaluation on the EHoMs learned / personal journeys of the pupils.

Learn from me (what worked well for us)

Learn to stand back and get involved rather than teach. The most surprising results come from allowing the pupils to be creative and flexible rather than focusing too much on planning ahead.

© The University of Manchester