If you don’t think robotics is quite your thing, think again. It has a wide range of uses and the impact of fitting robots into your teaching can be huge.
There are many good reasons for using robotics in class, as those teachers successfully using the technology will enthusiastically explain.
“Student engagement is instantaneous and it seems to ignite a depth of passion in the kids that just blows you away,” said Andrew Szabo, of Wanganui Intermediate School, which puts 600 students through a 10-week robotics course each year. “You get so many of those ‘Wow’ moments, like the first time a student holds her hand up in front of a robot and commands it to stop … and it does!”
The enjoyment students get from robotics is clearly a key factor in its success.
“It’s fun and they love it,” said David Olsen of Tawa College. “Many say that it has been the best thing they’ve done at school.”
But, of course, it’s more than just having a laugh.
“It’s accessible – all kids can get started and make progress building and programming their robots,” added David. “It’s interactive, kids see the results of their actions immediately; it’s extendable and can challenge even the most capable students.”
King’s College’s Harold Russ believes it allows students a large degree of control and creative input into their own learning as well as providing a “fantastically rich and diverse range of learning opportunities”.
“They can build robots with vision systems based on digital camera technology. They can make robotic submarines or helium balloons with simple-to-use sonar. Or robots that use sophisticated sensors to detect a moving soccer ball, or dance to music, play instruments, or pick fruit. The opportunities are endless.
“The students are engaged in projects that are personally significant and meaningful to them and so they’re determined to learn whatever is required to make them successful. The results are way beyond what would normally be expected.”
Interestingly, robotics has an important role to play for girls.
“It’s well established that robotics is a very successful way to engage the interest of girls in traditionally male-dominated subjects such as engineering and computer science,” explained Jill Pears of Selwyn House School.
So, it’s fun, it’s engaging but does it get results?
“In theory, a student design might work perfectly,” continued Pears, “but once you incorporate real world issues the things that can go wrong are endless – like loose connections, different levels of friction with different floor coverings, differing power levels as the batteries may run down, and so on.
“Sometimes students go through the testing, analysing and refining cycle literally hundreds of times. I’m constantly amazed by the level of problem-solving that goes on.”
From problem solving to patience, there are a variety of skills that seem to make robotics a compelling proposition, for teacher and student alike.
“The students learn the fundamentals of robotic construction and design, and the basics of computer programming,” said Andrew Szabo. “They work in groups to problem solve and innovate. Then they test their deductions and improve on the outcomes. The students only need the lightest of scaffolding from me as a teacher; they work the rest out by ‘doing’. They’re learning to work together to solve problems, to think independently and to understand that there is no single ‘right’ answer.
“You have to get hands on and have a go, then as the difficulties arise with your group you work through them. It’s an ongoing growth curve. The more you do it, the more you understand.
“I have found that using robotics in my teaching was so successful and powerful, that now all I do is teach robotics full time!”
Compiled by Greg Adams, Editor, INTERFACE Magazine.
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