—by Cheryl Kerby, Golden Apple Fellow—
When I was first approached about starting a Robotics Club for our school, I never dreamed how it would evolve and couldn’t imagine the impact it would have on my students. It began because Intel offered $500 per school to begin this journey. After some basic training and realizing the students generally knew more than I did, I was hooked!
The following year, New Mexico PED had money set aside by the State Legislature for Robotics Education. I decided to write a grant for computers and robots. To make the request data based, I looked back at students’ scores in mathematical critical thinking. I was blown away! My robotics club members ALL showed growth in excess of their peers and the growth of my special education students was the highest in the school!
Why? What is special about robotics? How do robots stimulate critical thinking? Those questions may seem to have simple answers, but exploring them in relation to the Next Gen Engineering Standards gives some deeper answers.
Robotics is fun and collaborative. Robots can be frustrating, but the thrill of making this machine do what YOU tell it to do is exciting! Robots are mainstream in our culture right now and this adds an appeal.
Robotics causes students to observe and define problems, then seek solutions. I have taught my students to never come for help saying, “The robot ISN’T doing …”, but instead to come saying, “The robot IS doing …”. This helps them see what is actually occurring, look at the robot and the computer code, and generally find their own solution. Problem solving at its finest!
Robotics causes students to evaluate solutions for the BEST solution. A robot may make it around a track or through a maze, but it may not be the fastest. Or the robot may be going so fast that it misses turns. Students learn to balance variables in order to achieve the best outcome possible. In order to do this, they must test, collect data (even if it is not consciously collected), and evaluate.
Robots have very practical applications. Examples abound right now on the internet. Chinese elementary students have created a simple robot to dispense hand sanitizer in a touchless manner using an ultrasonic sensor. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3894997 A high school robotics team from the Philippines has created a cell phone charging station that runs on solar, wind, and water power. A student from Mongolia created a pair of glasses that interfaces with a “page turning robot”. As the student plays his musical instrument, the glasses will signal the end of the page and the robot turns the music. The applications are limited only by the creativity of the students.
Robotics integrates math, science, engineering, and can include writing and history in unique ways. Students can learn real world uses for the Circumference/Diameter/Rotation concepts. They can “see” the relationships of distance/time (velocity) and velocity/time (acceleration) and analyze the impact of changing variables on the ratios. Students can apply these concepts along with learning about light and sound waves. In addition, they can begin to learn computer coding, which is estimated by many to be the number one marketable skill in this century.
But we are in a pandemic and cannot physically use robots, you might say. In response to the current world situation, several companies have created virtual robotics programs. Vex VR, Robot Lab, First Lego League, and RoboSensei are among some of these.
I had the privilege of being a Beta Tester for RoboSensei during the Spring 2020 virtual learning period. This program has been developed in conjunction with RoboRAVE International, an organization that began here in New Mexico and has spread to 28 different countries. RoboSensei allows students to virtually “build” robots using different platforms. Challenges are built in and are automatically scored, saving the teacher time. RoboSensei allows for coding in both a block type code, similar to Scratch, or in Java Script. Professional Development, ready made lesson plans, and online support are available, as well. For more information, watch the video below or email me, or both!
Robots are a tool for teaching deeper, critical thinking and analysis skills in an engaging, current, real world manner. Consider trying it! You just might like it and – your students will LOVE it!
By Cheryl Kerby, Golden Apple Fellow 2015