Robotics isn’t yet commonplace in K-12 classrooms, but it’s getting there. It might seem daunting, but don’t let that deter you from exploring what promises to be an incredibly engaging and rewarding teaching and learning experience.
Introducing students to robotics and other STEM concepts that go along with it, such as coding and engineering, gives them early exposure to STEM in general. This early exposure, according to research, is key to the future of the workforce.
Aside from the cool factor K-12 robotics offers, students who learn to program through robotics learn a number of skills they’ll take with them well into adulthood, including creativity, problem solving, and the ability to fail without quitting. These skills stick around even if students don’t pursue STEM-related study paths or careers later in their lives.
The eSchool News Robotics Guide is here! It features strategies to help you effectively integrate robotics into instruction, along with tips to find the right robotics resources to successfully teach key concepts. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!
Following are some tips and resources to help you start teaching robotics.
1. Most seasoned robotics educators will tell you that it’s important to find a community to share ideas and solicit feedback. Look for professional learning networks and communities that can help, and also seek out online communities with other educators who teach the same topics. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have any, or only have a few, robotics education resources in your school or district. Many companies that offer coding and robotics solutions also offer free curriculum to help you get started. You can also search relevant hashtags (like #roboticsedu) or follow robotics education accounts on social media for inspiration.
2. Start small. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in the oohs and ahhs of robotics and forget that you have to start with manageable content. Once students master the basics, they’ll be well-equipped to handle more complex tasks. For instance, having students complete missions and code robots to move along a specified path or course helps them create skills they’ll build on as they advance. These activities are not limited to STEM-focused classrooms, either. You can align a robotics activity with a concept from a novel, for instance.
3. Don’t give up if your school or district doesn’t have the budget for robotics kits. Many premade robotics kits are priced low, are targeted to different grade levels, and are easy for students to use right out of the box. However, most districts do have limited funds. Try DonorsChoose.org, write grants, and don’t hesitate to ask your administrators if there’s any way to find or raise money for the kits. If your school has a STEM team, consider sending home letters or emails asking for donated items or volunteer time from parents or community members who may have robotics knowledge.
4. Get students engaged by showing them how robotics isn’t a science fiction story, but something relevant to them in reality. Have students think about a problem they face regularly, or have them come up with a chore they don’t like to do. Can a robot help? How might students design a robot to complete that chore? For instance, if a student doesn’t like to make his or her bed, how might they program a robot to do it? What motions and capabilities would that robot need? Maybe a student gets the mail each day, but hates doing so when it’s raining. How would he or she design a robot to travel to the mailbox, remove the mail and store it to keep it dry, and return to the house?
5. Be ready to give up a little control–by now, that should be second nature. We know students will take a fun, engaging idea and run with it. It’s likely they’ll come up with unique and relevant ways to use robotics in your classroom. Check out some of these examples from We Are Teachers–one teacher has her students code a robot to navigate a maze, and students must answer relevant questions along the way. Another hosted a robotics party to get girls interested in coding and robotics.
[Editor’s note: We’re featuring K-12 robotics content throughout the month of October. Check back to find robotics teaching resources, grant opportunities, examples of how real schools are teaching robotics, and more.]