Programming Languages: Harold the Robot

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In this activity related to computer programming, learners give directions to a "robot" (either an adult or another learner) and find out which instructions the robot is able to follow, and how their instructions are taken literally. This activity will simulate how computers follow instructions very precisely, which can be frustrating at times. This activity also helps learners understand instruction set size (large complex vs. small efficient).

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Small collection of blocks or similar objects


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Computing
      • Computer Science
      • Information Systems
      • Information Technology
    • Engineering
      • Computer Engineering
    • Technology
      • Information and Communication
  • Life Sciences
    • Heredity and Genetics

Informal Categories

  • Computers
  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • hear
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Nelson, Richard ; Clutterbuck, Jason ; Höhna, Sebastian ; Marks, Stefan ; Siringoringo, Wilson


Funding Sources:

  • Brian Mason Scientific and Technical Trust
  • Google Inc.