November 18, 2017

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Getting Schools Revved Up About Robotics

Lego Robot: Thinkstock/Cylonphoto

Lego Robot: Thinkstock/Cylonphoto

For teachers and librarians who think robotics is beyond their understanding, educator Mark Gura has a message: Dive in. Your students will enjoy learning with you.

“Why not discover robotics alongside your students?” says Gura, author of Getting Started with LEGO Robotics (International Society for Technology in Education, 2011) “Having teachers partner with students, to figure out what to do with them, to me that’s all part of the do-it-yourself discovery, deconstructivism approach to learning we’re all after.”

Gura, alongside teacher librarian Colleen Graves and Dream Workshop founder and science teacher Sharon A. Thompson, offered takeaways on how educators can weave entry-level, plus more advanced, programs into their libraries and classrooms during a one-hour School Library Journal (SLJ) webcast, “Getting Started with Robotics,” the first in a three-part series in conjunction with ISTE.

The primary takeaway? While robotics is overtly rooted in the world of science, technology, engineering,and math (STEM), these tools also lend themselves to great creativity. Students can challenge themselves without feeling there’s a right answer or a wrong approach, say the panelists.

“I love how robotics focuses on the process and perseverance rather than one right answer,” says Thompson. “When coding doesn’t work or programming doesn’t work, it’s not a judgement, so kids don’t feel discouraged.”

During the webcast, Thompson encouraged educators to start robotics programs, even with children as young as pre-K. She mentioned one tool, the KIBO robot—also noted by Graves—which allows children to learn the principles of coding with simple, color-coded blocks. Another resource tip from Thompson: The Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA, where young children were invited to add sensors to animals built with recycled materials—and create a Robot Petting Zoo.

SLJ1502-TK-LittleBits-BaseCircuit

Base Circuit from LittleBits toolkit

Graves, an SLJ School Librarian of the Year finalist in 2014, agreed that robotics and art “really like to go together,” she says.

For example, one challenge she gives students is to create art with robots. Some students used littleBits to draw straight lines or random scribbles. Some of the other students from Ryan High School in Denton, TX
made art with Sphero by dipping the robotic ball in paint, and using lines of code to program it.

Integrate Robotics into the curriculum

Gura, the former director of instructional technology for New York City’s Department of Education, is always excited to see how engaged students are when working on projects that involve robotics. Instead of seeing teachers struggle to get their students to complete their assignments, he’d watch instructors struggle to get them to stop playing with the robots. That reaction alone tells him a robotics club isn’t sufficient exposure to this technology.

“We want robots integrated into the full instructional format,” he says. “It’s far more important than what can be done in an after-school club.”

For some schools, however, paying for robotic kits is a hurdle, or a “bugaboo to getting people started,” says Gura. But, he points out that kits can be used for multiple students, with multiple classes, over multiple years. Investing in just a dozen kits or more can seed projects for an entire school, he says.

“I would encourage people to think this through with budget decision makers or perhaps with fundraising in mind,” says Gura. “At first this might seem an expensive investment for schools. But bear in mind these materials are durable. Students build robots, they put the parts back into a kit, and other kids use the same parts again and again.”

Other webcasts in the SLJ/ISTE series are:

“Using Technology to Engage the Reluctant Reader” on Feb. 17

“Reading on Mobile Devices”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the write up! Here’s a video about art bots made by Ryan students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVxO8YIf4Sg !