Robotics in the Classroom

After a fantastic #digitaledchat on Twitter last week about how robotics can be used in the classroom, I was motivated to write about a recent project in school completed by our Digital Leaders using Sphero robots and the brilliant app Tickle. Twitter chats are a great way to connect with like minded educators and learn more! This one was looking at which robotics systems were of use in different phases of school as well as educators thoughts on the value of learning about robotics. It was a fast paced exciting chat with loads of ideas, resources and opinions. If you missed it, and would like to check it out, here is a link to the Storify.

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In the last few years, ‘Coding’ has been everywhere. Barack Obama, Ashton Kutcher & Oprah Winfrey have all been banging the same drum. Our kids should be learning to code! Robotics is a great and now relatively affordable way to get students coding in the classroom for a purpose. I think it is really important to not miss the point when it comes to computer science. The objectives of this recent push are not to try to make more students become computer programmers, but to develop computational thinking, an approach to problem solving which can be applied. I believe that this can be lost with some of the coding apps and web based coding tutorial platforms that exist.

In my school, we made the decision to purchase Sphero SPRK robots. This was because there are many different ways to control them on any bluetooth enabled device meaning they could be used  from kindergarten, all the way through primary and even into secondary school. I am so pleased we made this decision as they are durable, simple to use, yet have the potential to really extend more advanced users.

One problem we have encountered, which seems to be a common one is that teachers lack the confidence to integrate their use into their planning.

In an attempt to overcome this, we set a challenge to our digital leaders – technologically literate students from each class in upper primary who receive ‘training’ in order to provide support to their peers.

After a few weeks of planning, the digital leaders decided to set up a maze escape challenge for each class. Here is a photo of one of the mazes used:



They then organised with class teachers when they would be able to lead a double lesson so that we could all become more comfortable with using robots in the class. They gave a quick introduction, showing how to use Tickle to control the bots then let the teams at it (as we all know, sometimes the best way to learn is to just get stuck in!)

It was absolutely fascinating watching the different ways that students worked in order to find a solution to the problem. Some pupils were extremely systematic, patient and logical whilst others, just dived in, guessing and improving. There was a real buzz of excitement in each classroom when the challenges were being undertaken. There were cheers, celebration and a healthy dose of conflict resolution. What I loved about it, was the desire to keep going, keep learning more and to keep trying new things…from everyone! One student said to me after a challenge, “Is this coding? It’s a lot more fun than making a cat move across a screen.” This summed it up for me. While I absolutely love Scratch, I have seen some terrible uses of it in the classroom. The students simply followed instructions from a worksheet in order to achieve a set goal. There was no student directed learning, no learning from failure and most importantly of all, there was no computational thinking.

As educators, it’s really easy to get caught up in ‘the next big thing’. We must reflect on our practise continually though and think about the learning taking place. For these upper primary students, they rediscovered the joy of learning through play. When reflecting on the challenges, teams evaluated their performances and discussed how they could improve in future. I am looking forward to the next set of challenges to ‘Transform’ learning in the classroom (couldn’t resist at least one transformers pun :-))
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