Puzzled over how to teach robotics in your homeschool? Want to introduce your kids to more STEM topics, but not sure exactly how to go about it? Although robotics can be an intimidating topic to explore, it doesn’t have to be.
Disclosure of Material Connections: I received complimentary Robotis Dream 2.0 Level 1 and Level 2 kits from Timberdoodle in exchange for writing and publishing this review. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
Aveline’s heather grey tunic sweatshirt (with thumb holes!) is compliments of Primary, our very favorite comfy tagless brand of basics. This link to Primary is an affiliate link, which means if you click through and make a purchase from Primary, I receive a small commission.
Now back to homeschool robotics, which is the real reason you clicked through to this post…
At a glance, you might mistake Robotis for a building kit — similar to K’nex or Tinker Toys, perhaps. But just looking at the components (guidebook, plastic building pieces, reusable rivets and rivet tool, rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, motor, and connecting wires) doesn’t give you a full sense of what this program can actually do.
Far more than a simple building set, this really is an entry-level robotics curriculum, complete with workbook guide. (Timberdoodle assigns it as the STEM component in the Timberdoodle Fourth Grade Curriculum Kit, but you can get the Robotis Dream 2.0 Level 1 and Level 2 kits individually.)
Does Robotis Dream really teach STEM topics, or is it a glorified toy? What does the curriculum portion include?
On the fence about a robotics kit? I get it. One of my main complaints about similar products in this genre — like the toy kits you’d find in the science aisle at Hobby Lobby — is that they’re one-trick ponies. Build a bot from a soda can or a scrub brush, for example, and you’re done. There’s just not much versatility or complexity to those projects, nor much incentive to revisit them. And while science and engineering concepts might be at play, there’s not necessarily an immediately-accessible way to teach them. Kids can piece a bot together, but be no further along in understanding why.
Robotis Dream, though, is an actual robotics curriculum: it teaches the why behind the bots. This means the included manual is more than a step-by-step visual building guide — it’s a workbook which teaches the scientific principles behind each of the robotics projects. Students don’t just build the robot, they’re also are invited to think about why the resulting robot behaves the way it does. While students are welcome to write directly onto the lesson pages, if you’ll be using the kit again later with a younger child, you might want to complete the work orally, or have your child jot down the answers in a separate notebook.
Since Robotis Dream is made by a Korean company, the style of illustrations and the format of this book reflect that aesthetic. The quirky illustrations remind me a little of what you might see in Singapore Math, or in the Chinese-language books my daughter uses in her language studies. Robotis guidebooks, though, are in English. Because the books are designed outside the United States, every once in a while you might encounter a page which feels, to US sensibilities, slightly awkwardly worded or strangely laid out. Thankfully, this doesn’t at all affect the ability to understand the product.
What STEM ideas are covered?
In Level 1, the workbook tackles concepts such as
- kinetic energy,
- gear reduction ratios,
- center of gravity,
- and much more.
Level 2 delves into
- infrared rays,
- sound spread,
- speed = distance / time,
- speed, velocity, and acceleration,
- force, and
all in the context of robotics projects.
Do I need a tablet or other device in order to use Robotis Dream?
No! Robotis Dream is not a programming or coding kit; instead, it teaches the mechanics of motion. No screens required!
What projects does the Robotis Dream include?
In Level 1, your students can expect to ask — and learn how to answer — questions such as: how would each leg need to move if our robot had four legs? If it has two? What about six? Where does the center of gravity need to be in order for the robot to be stable? How can we adjust this? If we want our robot to jump, what do we need to know about shock absorption? How can studying the way a rabbit is designed help us answer this question?
While a series of projects focused on this might seem a slow start, this is what sets Robotis apart from other monolithic, single-function robotics kits. Robotis will walk (pun intended) your student through how gravity and various types of motion affect different shapes, teaching her fundamental mechanical principles needed to construct her own stable, mobile, functioning machine. And it’s thrilling to assemble a robotic dinosaur (Level 1), then watch it walk across the table knowing you built it yourself!
Once this foundational understanding of how to build a robot is established, Level 2 moves on to the kinds of functions we typically think of when we think of robotics: a bot which changes direction when the infared sensor detects motion, for example (The Avoider Robot), or one which follows a drawn path on a flat surface (The Beetle). Level 2 projects are exciting, and significantly more complex. It’s important to note, however, that it is not possible to build any Level 2 bots without having first purchased the Level 1 kit. Level 2 is not a standalone set, it is an add-on.
(Robotis Dream 2.0 also scaffolds up to Levels 3, 4, and 5, although Timberdoodle currently only carries the first two levels.)
How long does the entire Robotis Dream kit take to complete? Can I still use it once the assigned projects are finished?
Each kit is billed as a 12-week course, so Robotis Dream Levels 1 and 2 together could conceivably be completed in 24 weeks. We found, though, we are progressing through it much more slowly. Some of this is due to the fact we’re homeschooling with a preemie, had grandparents living with us for 6 glorious weeks this semester to help with the baby (come back!), and admittedly don’t get to robotics each week. Also, once we build a robot, Aveline usually wants to keep playing with it. She isn’t ready to break it down so quickly just a week later to build the next one. That’s a win in my book!
Timberdoodle bundles this in with the fourth grade curriculum, and although we’re doing an accelerated third grade/fourth grade combo year, we find Robotis Dream challenging — I’m happy about this! It‘s hard to find pre-made STEM kits which provide a proper challenge and actually tie in the science behind it all. When we sit down to work through a project, I’m pleased to find they’re not just “snap it together and be done” projects. Robotis Dream robots really do require time, precision, and thought, which I appreciate. (I didn’t want a robotics set my daughter would just blast through at hyperspeed.)
Once you’ve completed all twenty-four projects, your student will have a solid understanding of what goes into a building a successful robot, and can dive in to endless customizations, creating bots from scratch.
So yes! This kit can be played with over and over again once the curriculum portion is completed.
How much does Robotis Dream cost?
At the time of this posting, Robotis Dream is priced at $109.95 per level. While I know the cost is a not-insignificant initial investment, it does break down to just over $9 per project. If you pace the projects as a once-monthly STEM activity — which is more along the lines of how we’re using it — it’s cheaper than most of the subscription boxes out there.
And even if you steadily work through the curriculum at one project per week for 24 weeks, it’s still an affordable introduction to robotics. (As a comparison, our county’s Parks & Recs department offers discounted enrichment classes. $219.90 — the price of Level 1 and Level 2 — would only buy you 6 robotics-building sessions. With Robotis Dream, you’re getting 24 projects for the same price!)
For many homeschoolers, robotics classes and teams are simply not an option, either financially or geographically, so at-home materials like Robotis meet an important need.
Can my child use Robotis Dream independently? How do I know if Robotis Dream would be a good fit for us?
Detail-oriented kids who are okay with tiny pieces and are sticklers about step-by-step directions will love Robotis.
Depending on your child, the building aspects of projects themselves can mostly be worked on independently. You might expect to be called on a few times to assist with a stuck rivet or double-check progress, though, as a misplaced rivet or wrongly-positioned piece can quite significantly derail the subsequent steps.
To get the most out of the workbook pages interspersed between the visual instructions, I would suggest reviewing the applicable sections with your child prior to the building stage. Guided by the workbook text, engage in a little additional discussion about the science behind each project, and encourage your student to consider the scientific principles at play in the project as they’re building it. Of course, this isn’t necessary, but a few extra parent-child conversations about the mechanics at work can really enhance the course’s impact and effectiveness.
Robotis Dream wouldn’t be a good fit for a child who struggles with fine motor skills — or struggles with patience or impulse control. Plastic rivets are the primary means of connecting the various pieces together in the building process, and the tool used to place these removable rivets is quite fiddly, and can be a little frustrating. (It’s much more challenging than the popular and ubiquitous building blocks we all step on with bare feet in the dark.) Robotis Dream would definitely stretch a student with spacial-reasoning challenges, too, since matching the pieces to the step-by-step building guide requires the ability to “think in 3D”, so to speak.
A good rule of thumb: if your child is frustrated by K’Nex, they’ll likely be frustrated by Robotis Dream.
Do I need a knowledge of engineering or robotics to teach Robotis Dream?
No. The guidebook lays it all out for you. Of course, if robotics is your thing, your kids are lucky — you’ll be able to take the customizations to the next level! But it’s definitely not a prerequisite to enjoy this kit.
I want to add robotics to my homeschool loop! Where can I find Robotis Dream?
(Do you have robotics or homeschool questions I didn’t address in this review? Comment below, and I’ll do my best to answer.)
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