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Teaching & Learning Lab


From NLT assignment to national robotics project: Leaphy

It all started one and a half years ago at the Corderius College in Amersfoort when Hannah and Vroukje, pupils from the fourth grade of secondary school, during an NLT module developed a prototype for a robot named Leaphy. With the help of their teacher Olivier van Beekum and co-students they continued to develop the robot after the module was finished. This has led to an extensive project, in which secondary school pupils use Leaphy to teach robotics in primary schools.

The NLT module

Olivier wanted his students to do more with programming and robotics, but found himself confronted with the high costs of robots. That is why during the NLT module ‘Technical design in biomedical technology’ he gave his pupils the assignment to design a cheaper alternative for the current robot system. Pupils were given the opportunity to use the laser cutter of the Corderius College in Amersfoort, which allows you to cut computer drawings into different materials. A prerequisite for the design was that it would fit an Arduino, and that it is a kit that is easy to assemble and not too big.

The pupils started working on the assignment and usually came up with square boxes with two wheels on the sides. But Hannah and Vroukje’s robot was in the shape of a leaf with wheels, and had a system with sliders: Leaphy.

Further development after the NLT module

LeaphyOlivier was very enthusiastic about Hannah and Vroukje’s design and asked if they would like to continue the development of their prototype. They did that during the rest of the school year, until they had a design that was suitable for use in the classroom.

Making it suitable for primary schools

During the summer vacation Olivier ran into Erik-Peter Vermaat of the Science4Kids foundation. They got the idea to use Leaphy for primary school pupils in groups 7 and 8. Because programming with Arduino is too complicated for these groups, Erik-Peter had Scratch, programming software used in primary schools, converted to control the Arduino. Now it was possible to have primary pupils in group 7 and 8 program the robot car Leaphy using Scratch!

Secondary school pupils teaching in primary schools

As a pilot, Erik-Peter and Olivier, together with colleague Roeland Smith, taught lessons with Leaphy in various primary schools in Utrecht and surrounding areas. The pupils assembled the robot themselves and then started programming. They learned the basics of how to control the robot, and for example how to let it avoid objects. The pupils were wildly enthusiastic!

But guiding fifteen or twenty pupils on your own in building and programming robots is a lot of work. That’s why Olivier got the idea to take his own pupils to primary schools. And so Hannah and Vroukje, along with a number of other students from the Corderius College who were good at programming, started teaching at the primary schools and took over from Olivier. This so-called peer2peer education, where pupils teach each other and the teacher takes on a coaching role, went extremely well.

Many results

This combination of peer2peer education with robotics had many profitable results. First of all, it is a cheap possibility to work with programming and robotics, both for primary and secondary schools. The lessons enable primary pupils to experience what programming is. And the secondary pupils who teach these lessons not only learn a lot about programming and robotics, but also about teaching, collaborating and planning.

The secondary pupils do this voluntarily, based on their intrinsic motivation. They say: “We do this for primary pupils, so they can see that it works and that it is not difficult. That is so much fun! And also because of collaborating towards a higher goal, longer than just one period at school.”


Olivier van Beekum

Olivier van Beekum

In the meantime Olivier has received a scholarship with which he will expand and research the project. No previous research has been done into having secondary pupils teach in primary schools, which is why this process will be investigated under the direction of prof. dr. Erik Barendsen (Radboud University) and dr. Jos Tolboom (SLO). They are supported by Isabel de Vink, who is doing a research internship within the framework of her master ‘Educational Sciences’ at Utrecht University. They will investigate three aspects:

  • The primary pupils: what are their learning outcomes?
  • The secondary pupils who teach: what characteristics do these pupils have, what skills do they develop and how does the group process work?
  • The teaching materials: what are the characteristics of the teaching materials and what makes it effective?

Expansion to other schools

Olivier: “We want to understand why this works so well. Because it is really going very well. We have now trained more than 300 primary pupils, and already two other secondary schools are involved, and all this while the project is still in its infancy.” The idea is to eventually develop a curriculum that other secondary schools can use to teach in primary schools in the region. “Last year pupils from Corderius College taught in three primary schools in the Amersfoort region. This year we want to teach at ten primary schools. In addition, I am looking for networks of schools. A good example is U-Talent, which is an important partner for us. This school network consists of 42 secondary schools that have special attention for their science program and that provide opportunities for talented students in science subjects. We would therefore like to enable these U-Talent schools to do the same as we do. And when 42 secondary schools attend to five primary schools, you may reach about two hundred primary schools!”

Using corporate sponsorship Olivier succeeds in making the robots as cheap as possible, thus enabling all schools and students to use them. For this he has founded the Leaphy Foundation. In addition, he and his students in collaboration with Fontys in Eindhoven are also making instructional videos, and a forum where schools can exchange what they do with Leaphy, and they are thinking about an annual Leaphy competition. Finally, all the teaching materials will be available online including the software to control Leaphy.

Want to know more?

Starting in February, U-Talent is organizing a refresher course for teachers and pupils about Leaphy. View the activity

Go to www.leaphy.nl (this website is made by students!) and watch this video:

Author: Miranda Overbeek (Freudenthal Institute)