One of the most frequent and widely supported calls for change in education is for curriculum that integrates math and science with technology and communication skills. Although robotics may at first seem exotic, on closer examination it provides a natural fit that emphasizes meaningful learner-centered instruction that includes:
integration and application of knowledge
hands-on learning in cooperative groups
demonstrable mastery of new learning
project and time management
The study of robotics and programming attracts students to content domains such as mechanics, electrical circuits, and applied mathematical reasoning that all too often are either completely omitted from the curriculum or deemed too difficult for children. Robotics engages students in complex, strategic problem-solving and is easily introduced in a gradual, way, so beginner students can experience satisfying achievements quickly. This success motivates them to move on to new challenges in a continuous progression toward greater levels of sophistication.
Robotics at The Greene School encompasses engineering principles, design and construction, basic circuitry, and computer programming. Students begin by building and programming simple robots. As they become familiar with the basic concepts, we add components like sensors and increase the complexity of the programming concepts. Some students initiate their own projects, as their imaginations are primed by their increasing understanding of how their robots work and how they can control them.
We offer classroom activities that teach high-value STEAM content as well as opportunities to powerfully address English language arts. There are connections to robotics across the full spectrum of the curriculum.For example, in some classrooms reading the well-known children’s bookZach’s Alligator is accompanied by building an alligator robot (or robot of another character) and then retelling or expanding on the story. And of course, in designing and building their creations, students learn basic engineering and electronics, and practice math, too. Students build robots to help them understand the characters and plots of books they read. Story analysis and comprehension are greatly enabled and enhanced.
In grades 2 and up, students begin constructing their own robotic systems. They utilize sensor technologies to enhance their designs: touch, ultrasonic, gyro, sound, color, temperature, humidity, infrared and more. The discussion of sensors is first explored in an organic environment before relating to a computational environment (i.e How do bats see? Ultrasonic). This allows students an opportunity to develop deep connections between physical and abstract environments.
Robots provide an interactive means of teaching students about math in context by taking the numbers off of the page and into real life. Students see how simple math concepts like addition and subtraction as well as more advanced concepts like proportions affect how a robot responds to its environment.
Learning how robots are powered teaches children scientific theories on electricity and solar power, or photovoltaics. Using robots to lift objects strengthens a child’s understanding of physics concepts like force and tension. Building a robot from scratch, and seeing how different materials affect how their robot behaves, teaches children the most fundamental aspects of science: observation and experimentation.
Robots for children are designed to be simple, and this simplicity extends to programming. By building a robot, a child is exposed, perhaps for the first time, to how a code inputted into a computer affects the real world. Some robots are even specifically designed to increase the difficulty of their programming interface as the child becomes more comfortable with the concept by moving from simple visuals, like “press the picture of a dog barking to make the robot bark,” to drag-and-drop commands, and finally to programs designed to teach simple computer coding.
Though most people wouldn’t look at a child building a castle out of building blocks and think that child is an engineer, the concept is there. Engineers build everything from cars to cities, and children can learn a great deal about the field of engineering through robotics. Helping a child to build a robot aids them in understanding concepts like design and function and gives them a fun, exciting reward for the lesson in the form of a robot.
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