A-mazing Hexbugs

This past summer, I was involved in a Summer Program SWAP initiative with other public service librarians in our library system. Each of us was responsible for creating, planning, and facilitating one program. Then, throughout the summer we would offer this one program at a different library branch each Friday afternoon. The program I created was A-mazing Hexbugs.

About The Program:

  • Program Duration: 2 hours (drop-in anytime). The idea was that families could come in and participate at anytime between 2 pm and 4 pm. Most families came near the beginning of the afternoon and stayed anywhere from 20 min to 2 hours.
  • Age Range: Family (Ideal for children ages 4+)
  • Program Type: STEAM

Materials List:

Learning Outcomes:

Children and families will work individually and/or in groups to design and create various mazes and pathways. This activity uses the principles of science, low-technology, engineering, art, and math. It involves trial-and-error, problem-solving, and critical thinking as participants work to make the Hexbug perform optimally in their created maze/pathway. A Hexbug is a battery-powered bug that can navigate its space using a responsive sensor and vibration to help propel it.

The Flow of the Program:

I found this activity had the best outcomes when participants worked together. Parents and kids, siblings, friends, whatever the pairing or team, I think there was more creativity and fun had this way! You’re always going to have those kids who want to work on their own, and that’s okay too. When you’re facilitating the program, you can direct most of your attention to those working independently as they will enjoy problem solving and bouncing ideas off of you about their maze.

I would have participants start by choosing their workstation. I would prep the room by having about 8 workstations ready to go (and then I would create more as participants finished and left). Each workstation would have a sheet of easel pad paper, a pair of scissors, a roll of tape, a glue stick, and about 25 straws (I used a mix of flexible and regular straws – it adds colour and variety to their work). Depending on the size of the room, you can decide how many work stations to have set up. I found in the rooms I was in that about 8 stations gave the participants enough space to work without being crowded. If the floor was tiled, I also had participants work on the floor (with chairs available if needed). The Hexbugs work best on very flat and smooth surfaces. If you have a carpeted room, then you’ll need to set up tables for that flat surface.

An example of a setup room that is carpeted. This room fit 8 tables and had chairs for those that needed around the perimeter.
An example of a workstation

There was little instructional time before participants got started on their project. I would show a completed example of a maze that had been constructed with straws already. I would also show them a Hexbug (as many participants had never seen one before). I would explain a bit about how a hexbug works and give them a few tips about how to make their maze.

Tips included:

  • Using narrow pathways as they allow the Hexbug to navigate its route easier
  • Keeping the paper as smooth and wrinkle-free as possible so that the Hexbug moves effectively and efficiently
  • Placing the tape lengthwise over the straw to avoid pieces of tape being in the middle of the maze path (which will slow down the Hexbug as they move overtop)

Then it was time for participants to get creative! Throughout summer I saw many different mazes constructed for the Hexbugs. It was interesting to see all the different strategies and thought-processes of the children and adults who participated. Some added obstacles. Some created secret trap-door rooms. Some even had covered pathways! No two mazes were exactly alike!

An example of a completed maze

But the most fun came from the participants running the Hexbug through the maze. I usually waited until they had most of their work done on their maze before letting participants borrow a Hexbug. Otherwise, I am not sure the maze would ever be constructed!

There was a lot of trial and error when participants were sending their Hexbugs through the maze. Some found that their Hexbug would travel through well and some Hexbugs needed some ‘pushing’ along. Regardless, kids and parents all had fun watching their Hexbug go through their maze and there was a lot of cheering and excitement.

This program was great for encouraging teamwork. Hexbugs are relatively in-expensive in the world of robotics (a pack of 5 Hexbug Nitro Nanos is approx. $30 CDN) and they have very long battery life. It incorporates STEAM principles. And it doesn’t require a lot of prep work ahead of time!

Let me know if you decide to give this program a try! Feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.

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