Teaching tomorrow’s edtech leaders about robotics, today!
LIGHTING A FIRE | by Mark Gura
I teach a master’s level course for a popular New York City-based university titled, “Technology Integration for School Leaders.” Having a student robotics materials producer join the class as an online guest seemed like a sexy idea. I was fortunate and Robo Wunderkind, a provider of some excellent STEM instruction materials accepted my invitation.
My class and I were joined by Mark Resnick who engaged us in a ripping good conversation about Student Robotics and about the way his company, Robo Wunderkind, has put together its body of offerings for school use.
Robots on My Mind
Student Robotics has been much on my mind lately, having contributed to the recently published ‘State of Student Robotics 2019: An Educator’s Guide’, a free 90-page eBook (scroll down for link). Student Robotics is a hyper-rapidly growing area of STEM education and along with a deep overview of how it can be integrated in to schools’ instructional programs, particularly across the core curriculum, the guide includes a great many varieties of robotics resources, Robo Wunderkind being one of a large and expanding body of offerings.
‘…those who spearhead and support the technology program of each school should be aware of the ascendency of Student Robotics and given a good idea of how they can bring this exemplary facet of instruction into their schools.’
With such a large and highly competitive pack to keep up with, a newer company like Robo Wunderkind needs to make wise choices to appeal to schools, many of which are now actively looking to jump into this pool of practice head first. Mark enthusiastically regaled us with explanations of the sharp thinking, cutting-edge design, and full envelope of support items they’ve come up with.
The Perfect Group
My students were the perfect group to engage in this conversation. All of them are enrolled in a master’s program to qualify as school and district level technology specialists and they all had some familiarity with student robotics, having seen or read about it, although none had actually ever used the materials, let alone taught with them. This makes them typical of a great many of their colleagues who can benefit greatly from being brought up to speed quickly on an ever more present, popular, and successful area of instruction. They were ready to gain some real insights about which robotics resources and practices offer strong instructional value and classroom practicality. Our conversation was a perfect opener to this field for them.
Of the many points covered, here are a few that resonated particularly:
- Form factor: Are the materials easy for students to manipulate and explore with? Does the way they work model STEM concepts?
- Is the resource set designed for a full STEM experience, not just coding, but Engineering, as well? While there are valid reasons for both, this is a crucial consideration for educators considering making robotics part of what they offer students.
- An eye toward starting students with robotics very young and launching them on a continuum of continuing, robotics-supported, increasingly sophisticated learning activities – an ongoing thread through the learning experience that kids engage in as they progress through the grades.
- Curriculum: Does the resource provider provide it? Of high quality? Robo Wunderkind’s seems to be a rather extensive one that includes the element of story to contextualize STEM activities in a way that is age appropriate and engaging for young students. My students were impressed with the fact that it is available without purchase to all through Robo Wunderkind’s website.
- Further, the amount of teacher guide materials that can encourage to non-tech specialist teachers to be self-starters is generous, eye opening, and inspiring. Any variety of instructional materials that is likely to entice teachers to use them joyfully and creatively is very much on the right track.
- One of the deepest themes I explore with my grad students is the way today’s technology resources enhance traditional best practices, making for greater relevance and deeper learning; and how they establish new, previously unimagined instructional practice, as well. Robo Wunderkind is one well-designed variety of materials that, in the hands of insightful and dedicated teachers, can support this.
One of the out-of-the-box facets I found in perusing the Robo Wunderkind resources is the balance of discovery learning through free play for the students and needed structure for the teachers. The system encourages learning through play while at the same time provides worksheets and other formal materials which have students reflect on what they are doing and learning and report on it as they would on other learning. To me it’s the best of both worlds neatly interwoven and above all supported by the developer.
Taking this approach full circle, teachers are provided guides and journals with which to assess learning as revealed in the worksheets, return them to students with constructive feedback. Lest any colleagues blanch at this, it seems to me that one is always free to take advantage of as much of the generous range of materials and suggestions as suits one’s instructional sensibilities or use the materials in a free and unstructured manner as suits one, or create one’s own structures. Within the teachers’ guide there is a template for teachers to create their own lessons, by the way. The materials themselves are robust and will support any direction taken.
Understandings and Skills
Robotics embraces so many of the important understandings and skills that we hope today’s students will learn and learn well before they move on from school. It’s becoming increasingly clear that it behooves every school to offer it; not just as an extra, but integrated into the core of the instructional program. It follows that those who spearhead and support the technology program of each school should be aware of the ascendency of Student Robotics and given a good idea of how they can bring this exemplary facet of instruction into their schools.
I feel very good about making this part of my graduate courses, courses I design to prepare tomorrow’s school tech leaders. And I appreciate Robo Wunderkind’s enthusiastic dialog with my students.
To get your free copy of The State of Student Robotics 2019: An Educator’s Guide, click here.
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.