Math products seek engagement with robotics, gaming

RobotsLAB, KnowRe try a new approach to math instruction

RobotsLAB’s ‘quadcopter’ helps teach students about quadratic equations.

At the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference in Austin this month, several companies demonstrated products designed to help teach math.

Two that stood out in particular were RobotsLAB and KnowRe, which have taken different approaches to boost engagement in a subject that’s often inaccessible to students.

Robots show real-world relevance of math equations

Students often struggle to grasp the meaning of abstract equations, but San Francisco-based RobotsLAB brings these concepts to life with a family of robotic devices. The RobotsLAB BOX includes four robots and a tablet computer that comes pre-loaded with a science and math curriculum for teaching with the devices.

Aligned with Common Core standards, the curriculum includes 50 hours of interactive lessons demonstrating Algebra I and II, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Physics concepts, helping students understand why math is relevant to their world.

Without any prior experience in robotics or computer science, RobotsLAB says, teachers can demonstrate abstract concepts such as slope, sine, cosine, and vectors—right out of the “box.”

A robotic arm, called an ArmBot, helps teach students about angles, triangles, the Pythagorean Theorem, arc lengths, sine, cosine, polar coordinates, radians, and more. A robotic ball helps teach linear equations, probability, and momentum.

A cylindrical robot with independently rotating gears at each end, called a “Mobot” (short for mobile robot), teaches about complementary angles, distances, and angular velocity. And what might be the most intriguing robot, a quadcopter (a helicopter with four rotating blades), teaches about quadratic equations, gravity, and acceleration.

For instance, a two-dimensional graph of the area spanned by a camera attached to the bottom of the quadcopter shows that this area is defined by an inverted parabola, and students can see how the equation representing this parabola changes as the copter rises or descends.

“I’ve seen students react to the robots very positively,” said Peter Stone, a computer science professor at the University of Texas-Austin, in a video on the RobotsLAB website. “I sat in a lesson at a high school detention on a weekend, and the students came in clearly not wanted to be there. When the quadcopter came out and started flying around the room, they were immediately engaged.”

(Next page: An adaptive, game-like approach to personalizing math instruction)

Dennis Pierce

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