Using a visual programming environment and custom robots to learn C programming and K-12 STEM concepts

Sai Prasanth Krishnamoorthy, Vikram Kapila

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper presents a robot-Visual Programming Environment (VPE) interface that can support K-12 students to learn science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. Specifically, we employ Google's Blockly VPE to construct a blocks-based visual programming tool to facilitate easy programming of and interaction with physical robots. Through a careful and intentional integration of the Blockly VPE and physical robots, we illustrate that many K-12 level STEM concepts, which are traditionally treated through lectures and problem-solving, can be explored in a hands-on manner. The use of Blockly VPE obviates the need for prior experience with computer programming or familiarity with advanced programming concepts. Moreover, it permits students to learn various programming constructs, sequentially, starting from the fundamentals and gradually progressing to advanced concepts. The web-based Blockly VPE provides an interface that allows the user to browse through a block library and construct a block code for which a corresponding C program is automatically generated. The default web-based Blockly interface has been modified to permit the user to edit the resulting C program or to create an entirely new C program. Moreover, the Blockly VPE allows the user to wirelessly upload the C program to a Linux server running on a Raspberry Pi computer hosted on the robot. The Raspberry Pi compiles the received C program and serially transfers corresponding instructions to the robot's embedded hardware. The efficacy of the proposed robot-VPE interface is examined through students' experiences in conducting several illustrative robot-based STEM learning activities. The results of content quizzes and surveys show gains in students' understanding of STEM concepts after participation in robotics activities with the VPE interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of FabLearn 2016
Subtitle of host publication6th Annual Conference on Creativity and Making in Education
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)1595930361, 9781450348027
StatePublished - Oct 14 2016
Event6th Annual Conference on Creativity and Making in Education, FabLearn 2016 - Stanford, United States
Duration: Oct 14 2016Oct 16 2016

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series


Other6th Annual Conference on Creativity and Making in Education, FabLearn 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Blockly
  • Interface
  • K-12 STEM Education
  • Puppet Robot
  • Robotics
  • Visual Programming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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