Robotics is new to everyone. No one expects teachers to have a specialized background in fields related to robotics, and it is perfectly possible to follow this curriculum without such a background. Because it is new, it provides a special opportunity for teachers to model for students the very important sets of skills and attitudes that will help them become life-long learners. Your approach can help students share in the enthusiasm for learning new things (and can also help them manage the frustrations that sometimes crop up in the process). You may want to make a point of modelling and encouraging some of the following strategies:
- Breaking a larger problem into manageable, step-by-step pieces
- Testing your understanding and your solutions as you go
- Working systematically
- Persisting rather than giving up when something doesn’t work the first time
- Using all available resources (e.g., the accompanying Technical Guide and resources on the Internet) to find answers to questions, look for new building ideas, and improve your expertise
- Relying on, cooperating with, and learning from teammates and classmates
A number of more specific strategies and problem-solving techniques for activities such as debugging a program are covered in Robodigx Learnium. Just like your students, you will find that the more you do this, the easier it gets. We have never seen a learner (adult or child) so “stuck” that there wasn’t a fairly immediate way to simplify the problem or break it down into smaller pieces and get the learning moving again. More often, students are struck by how obvious and systematic their improvement is, even over just a few sessions.
Consider developing your own personal support team as you undertake robotics. You may team up with a colleague or recruit some community volunteers. We suggest making contacts with college students in science and engineering fields, parents who enjoy mechanical and electrical hobbies, mentors from local industry (e.g., engineers), and retired professionals. There are Robotic kits popular with adults as well as children, and many adults would welcome the chance to mentor students using the kits. It is particularly helpful to have someone who is computer savvy help you install and test the software and the downloading processes before you get started to make sure that everything works in your environment. You can also recruit middle school students who can be trained as team leaders, equipment managers, and classroom assistants. Train group leaders in an after-school club and assign them to different groups when you are ready to teach it to the entire class.
Picture this: a classroom of students working collaboratively on a challenging science- or maths-based problem with an open-ended solution. They are exchanging ideas and learning from each other, are self-motivated and are even seeking out additional resources to help improve their knowledge. In fact, the students are so engaged that they protest when recess arrives and they’re told to pack up!
Classrooms such as these do exist, and are a refreshing and delightful experience for the weary educator. The use of robotics as a medium for teaching and developing a range of concepts has proven wonderfully successful, and has helped hand over the process of learning to the students themselves.
Robotics lends itself to project-based tasks: applied, real-life problems where there’s a goal to be achieved. Usually it is not so much about learning about the nuts and bolts of robots themselves, but about using robotics to highlight and explain concepts in maths, science and technology. Students can apply even basic robotics knowledge in order to learn by design, trial and experience, which is one of the most immediate and effective sequences possible.
A traditional educator might walk into a class and announce: ‘Today we’re going to learn to calculate gear ratios’. You can just about hear students’ brains shutting down. By comparison, robotics can be used to teach the same outcome by ‘stealth’ exploration by the students themselves. As the successes and not-so-goods are dissected, students get to examine concepts such as motor output, power consumption, amps vs volts, gearing (now the kids will want to hear about ratios!), traction, weight distribution, and so forth. If a second opportunity is allowed, groups will nearly always want to improve, so they will ask each other what they did to get so far – an example of spontaneous peer tutoring in action. Inevitably they will use the internet or other resources to start to look at successes in the real world, and apply some of what they find to their experiments. In this way, they have just started to learn for themselves – they have broken free of the teacher’s umbilical cord and are following directions of their own choosing.
This sort of self-directed, challenge-based learning means that there has been a shift from simply absorbing and regurgitating facts to the application of knowledge and learning by experience. There are no winners or losers in this type of learning: all groups have the opportunity to improve their designs and knowledge, and students will come to appreciate as there is no single ‘right’ solution.
Many traditional topics too can be taught by ‘stealth’ using robotics. Light and reflection can be covered by programming line-following robots, or with ‘table-top dancers’, robots that move around a table without falling off the edge. Students can learn about the movement of a pendulum, or use data-logging tools to measure body temperature change while a student exercises. Human movement can be studied by examining the capabilities of a robotic arm, or by developing a walking robot. Data-logging tools and counters mean that reaction times, vehicle acceleration, and distances covered by a vehicle in a set amount of time can be recorded, graphed, or used for predictions.
Robotics can be used to generate group activities, and for problem-solving and logic-based activities. A great activity for younger students is ‘Burglar’, where each group sets their robot to record light readings, and then leaves the room. During this time, the teacher moves around the room shining a torch on each robot. The students will then use software to produce a graph of their light readings, and will work together as a class to find out in which order the ‘burglar’ moved around the room. An activity like this links learning about time, light intensity, direction, team work, technology, graph interpretation, and collaboration all in one!
The learner-centered approach of robotics education allows for open-ended teaching and learning outcomes – some schools have even made it possible for students to design parts of their own curriculum. For example, teachers can develop an excellent program where students choose to complete a number of tasks from a selection designed to cater to individual interest and ability. For each completed task, students will receive a point score that reflects the task’s difficulty level. This means that students can work at their own pace: all they need do is achieve a nominated number of points to complete the unit.
If teachers really want to let the cat out of the academic bag, they can encourage students to take part in a robotic challenge which happens all over India, where students come together to test their robotics skills in the Dance, Rescue, or Soccer categories, where students use their skills in robotics to solve real-life challenges. These events give students an opportunity to explore their own skills against their peers in a friendly, positive and supportive team-based environment. To get started with robotics or to see ways to develop your existing program, talk with someone who is already involved.
Robodigx Learnium is program, for the students; and by the students; that stimulates tender minds to engage themselves with the latest technology around them.
We insist that students should play while they learn. The idea of bringing down robotics, to the consent of school students, and thus letting them run wild with the practical application of the mechanics & electrical classes gave us a push to start these workshops exclusively at this primary level.
The Robodigx Learnium gives a platform not only to the people with technical backgrounds, but also warmly welcomes all non-technical persons to pursue their interest in robotics by integrating with us. We aim primarily to Hobby Robotics to a basic level, so that numerous people get a chance to indulge themselves with the applications of day to day technology flourish around them.
So if the options are to stand at the front of the classroom and feed students more facts, or to assist in a dynamic, personalized, self-teaching environment that stimulates and rewards, it’s not exactly a tough decision! If you were a student, which would you choose?