The efficacy, the vibrancy, and the power of a perennially popular curriculum-aligned gem.
GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura
Student robotics is one of the richest and most impactful varieties of STEM learning experiences available to today’s students. Many may be surprised to find out that it’s actually been offered by schools for decades and consequently there is already a deep body of established, documented, research-based practice in place.
What Educators Have Discovered
Recently, Student Robotics has undergone a veritable explosion in popularity which, considering the maturity of STEM and STEAM instruction, makes perfect sense: educators, when implementing a required and featured segment of the curriculum, search about for highly impactful best practices and share the discovery of gems that fill that need.
Expansion of Approaches
Importantly, along with the increased popularity of Student Robotics there has been a very significant expansion of the body of approaches to implement it and fit it into the school’s overall instructional program.
One very significant dimension of this has been the increasing incidence of educators finding advantages in making robotics part of the school’s regular daytime instructional program.
Similarly, a large body of resource providers has made available a new and highly varied body of Student Robotics materials. One very significant example of this is the trend to provide materials for younger students: early elementary grade and even pre-k and kindergarten. Numerous innovations have been developed in order to accomplish that.
And So: 10 Clear Reasons for Your Consideration
In short, because of its efficacy and vibrancy for STEAM Learning and because of its powerful appeal to students and teachers, all schools should very seriously consider making Student Robotics part of its body of preferred instructional approaches.
Among the reasons for this are the following 10 clear reasons:
1. Coding and Computer Science
Considered a cornerstone of technology education needed to prepare for higher levels of education and the world of work graduates will enter after moving on from pre-k – 12, robotics offers numerous approaches to learning coding and computer science.
Importantly, coding is learned through robotics through code’s application to authentic, often real world problems making concepts easy to visualize and solutions easy to test.
2. Maker–based Learning
An approach to learning that now fills a long overlooked gap in the continuum of experiences offered students; the need to tinker—to experiment with building things physically that fill real needs and satisfy authentic challenges, problems as well as to build to experiment fancifully, letting the imagination flow and take physical shape in things built.
Robotics may provide the perfect body of resources and opportunities for young makers.
Many varieties involve designing and constructing robots from parts and components that may move or move objects, collect data with probes that measure a wide variety of environmental factors, resulting in machines and systems that may be simple or complex.
3. Career Skills
With the rapid proliferation of many varieties of robotic devices, domestic, institutional, and commercial, this is an industry that likely will need a growing work force, as individuals and organization become consumers of robots and all groups will need access to some level of familiarity and expertise with them.
Beyond those who will earn their living full time designing, maintaining, and installing and setting up, robots, familiarity with them will be a plus across the population.
Schools should increase the experiences in this area that they offer students.
4. Arts: The “A” in STEAM / Digital Arts Instruction
The arts and entertainment fields already have a history of use of robotics. Amusements and rides at theme parks incorporate them, social robots interact with participants at trade fairs and luxury retail stores, the toy industry has been developing and actually selling robotic toys, sometimes referred to as ‘robot pets’ that interact with children, among other examples.
In the visual art field, robots have been incorporated by artists directly into works of art and have been programmed to produce art works. Museum exhibits have incorporated robots as ways to organize and create the viewer experience.
Practical to manage and cost effective to purchase, student scale robotics materials and resources can be purposed to produce much of what’s done with robots beyond school in the areas of arts and entertainment.
Students can produce and program robotic elements of projects they create to produce sounds and music, light patterns, kinetic sculptural elements, and more. Marrying Arts instruction with Robotics is a body of practice that is in its very early stages of development currently.
Those interested in establishing a rich and highly meaningful STEAM program (the “A” stands for Arts added to STEM) should consider robotics as an entry point as in addition to a wide range of as yet unexplored possibilities, there is also a solid body of existing curriculum and activities that are good to go available.
5. Innovation, Problem Solving, Creativity
There are few areas more misunderstood than the teaching and learning of Innovation, problem solving, and creativity. And while these have often in the past decade been cited as absolutely essential skill sets and bodies of knowledge for today’s graduates to leave school with, the “How To” of teaching them has very infrequently been included in standards documents and is not served well by a readily available body of curriculum, documented activities, and materials—other than in the area of Student Robotics, which has much to offer already.
6. Motivation and Engagement
Simply put, there are few varieties of learning activity offered to students that are more motivating and engaging. Robotics features strongly in the world that young people crave to participate in. The coolness factor is very high, and once they begin a robotics activity they very much want to complete it and move on to another, more challenging, and next-level one.
7. Collaboration and ”Cooper-tition”
Collaboration is a skill set, and area of learning that is considered as an essential learning for those who will succeed in the 21st Century. It is a highlighted area of learning in the ISTE Standards for Students (International Society for Technology in Education).
Students robotics activities, including, but not exclusively, in the area of competitive participation in the many student robotics challenge oriented competition events organized by groups like FIRST, Botball, and so many others offer unique and highly effective contexts and activities in which to have students focus on and develop collaboration skills.
Creativity and participation in the 21st Century continues to identify itself as a group effort, with teams of designers and engineers producing many of the winning products and applications that resonate for people looking to satisfy needs through technology.
8. Sport of the Mind / ‘e-Sport’
Traditional sports have long been a prominent feature of school culture. Recently, “e-Sports” have emerged as additions to the body of sports that schools embrace. In addition to Gaming, Robotics Challenge Competition has figured prominently in this expansion of school sports.
Importantly, Robotics, when done as a team ‘sport’ involves thinking, planning, designing, as well as team related organizational and communications competencies. See: Lego Robotics: STEM Sport of the Mind
In essence, Engineering is the application of knowledge in the form of science, mathematics, and observations about conditions and characteristics to the innovation, design, construction, and operation of structures, machines, processes, and systems to respond to needs.
Of the various subject areas that make up the STEAM continuum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), Engineering is the only one in the instructional program offered to most students does not represent a discreet subject of its own.
While considered one of the pillars of STEM it can be difficult to develop high quality learning activities that foster learning in this cross-disciplinary area. Robotics offers a rich body of approaches with which students can have genuine engineering experiences, often serendipitously aligning to elements in its sister disciplines, providing opportunities to learn and enriching them at the same time.
10. STEM Learning Across the Curriculum / Multi-disciplinary Approach
For those interested in offering learning activities that demonstrate cross curricular connections, the multi-disciplinary nature of learning and knowledge, and the mosaic of bodies of knowledge and skills sets that is called into play when applied to solving real problems, robotics fill the bill perfectly.
Few approaches to teaching and engaging students so thoroughly engage the full continuum of STEM subjects; robotics has strong connections to all of them.
But Wait, There’s More
11. Life and Developmental Skills
As a bonus, robotics represents an area of learning that is just beginning to identify itself.
As employees, consumers, householders, and independent adults, individuals will continue to encounter robotic devices in the home, store, health provider, place of employment and more. Learning to understand, interact with, activity use—plan for—and acquire, set up, and maintain these becomes increasingly important.
Further, there are opportunities through robotics to teach students in need of focus on motor, perceptual, and social skills to develop activities that strongly address those, through robotics, as well.
FYI – EdTech Digest is currently producing its first edition of ‘The State of Student Robotics: An Educator’s Guide’. Click on these links for: a report preview, to pre-order your copy of this first-of-its-kind resource, or for sponsorship opportunities.
Mark Gura is Editor-at-Large for EdTech Digest and author of ‘Getting Started With LEGO Robotics’ (ISTE). He is a co-author of State of EdTech: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next. He taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. He spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system.