Coding and robotics go hand-in-hand, and they’re becoming a more integral part of classrooms across the country.
Aside from the excitement students muster when they see a robotics kit morph into a controllable arm or a tiny programmable vehicle, coding and robotics offer a little bit more than a fun classroom experience.
When students participate in coding and robotics activities, they’re learning employability skills such as teamwork and collaboration, problem solving, the ability to fail and persevere, and more.
Different schools teach coding and robotics in different ways, depending on the availability of funding, knowledgeable teachers or classroom volunteers, and time.
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Here’s a look at how five schools and districts are teaching coding and robotics. Use these examples as inspiration to integrate coding and robotics into your own classroom, or share them with colleagues to demonstrate how easy it is to start incorporating robotics in the classroom.
1. At The Village School in Houston, TX, instructional technology specialist Ruth O’Brien and middle school teacher Marc Abrate help students develop skills that help not only in coding, but in areas such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.
Coding has been a required part of the middle school and elementary school curriculum since 2014. Teachers attend coding workshops and receive training at school. Students in fourth grade are trained to use devices to code, and they also have to train their peers and students in other grades.
The school uses resources and apps such as Unplugged.org, Kodable, Tynker, codeSpark, and Scratch Jr. Students use devices such as Ozobots, SAMLabs, Makey Makey, Code-a-Pillar, and Dash & Dot. In middle school, students use Scratch Studio and Code.org’s Code Studio for creative applications such as making games, drawing animations, and controlling drones, O’Brien and Abrate say.
2. Engineering and robotics challenges are a fun and engaging way to involve students in STEAM learning, says Leah LaCrosse, an eighth-grade science teacher in the Huron (OH) City School District.
“I love engaging my students in STEAM through engineering challenges. The challenges always connect to my state standards, and they require students to take content and build solutions for problems,” she says.
“My Sphero Pollution Pick Up Challenge is probably one of my favorite engineering challenges. In it I ask students to design a method for cleaning water-based litter with Sphero as the engine moving the system. It is so much fun! Students use so many critical-thinking skills and have a blast.”
LaCrosse’s Sphero Pollution Pick Up Challenge book supports teachers interested in using Sphero robots to explore literature, science, coding, engineering, and more. It includes lesson plans, materials, assessment, and examples to help jump-start ideas for a fun unit of study.
3. This collection of real-life classroom examples from We Are Teachers highlights two common elements all successful robotics lessons need: curiosity and creativity. Lessons range from animal habitats and parades to sports competitions and musical jam sessions.
For instance, an Oregon-based tech literacy teacher tasks students with using Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot robots to solve math problems and code various challenges.
In Arizona, Allison Davis, who is a 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence, uses Wonder Workshop’s robots across the entire curriculum. Science experiments, number challenges, reading–you name it, students use Dash to navigate the assignment.
4. Robotics and coding play a big part in Mableton Elementary School‘s transition from STEM to STEAM. A big part of the new spark in the STEAM program has come from introducing coding and programming, says Alana Davis, the school’s innovation specialist. Davis works with teachers to help them feel comfortable with coding and robotics technology.
For instance, teachers use Sphero robots, which are app-enabled programmable robots that allow students to learn basic coding language using commands such as drive and draw. In addition, students can run programs using block coding and HTML text. All of this learning happens through the Sphero Edu app, which lets students and teachers connect, code, and learn from others around the world. This robot has allowed teachers to integrate technology into content standards for other subjects and has increased student engagement and student interest in coding and programming.
To assist this process, Davis created an anchor chart for the classroom wall. Students can refer to it while they’re learning how to create block coding programs, which tell the robot what to do. Imagine a classroom of 8- and 9-year-olds, huddled on the floor with a diagram of the water cycle, figuring out, with coding commands, how to get a paint-dipped robot to follow the path of that diagram. When they succeed, the robot makes colorful trails along the floor.
5. 5. When robotics teacher Mike Causey had the chance to build a K-5 robotics class “from the lab up,” he knew he’d struck paydirt. Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy in Texas just opened last year, and educators are committed to exposing students in all grade levels to a variety of STEM learning opportunities.
Causey designed the school’s robotics course to be progressive, starting simply in kindergarten and becoming more advanced. This sets up students for continued success in middle and high school robotics. Students in these early grades use two products–LEGO’s STEAM Park and KinderLab’s KIBO. Second and third grades use WeDo 2.0, also from LEGO, and third grade also uses the robots4STEM suite from RoboKind. Robots4STEM comprises a two-foot-tall humanoid robot named Jett, a visual coding language, and a curriculum. In 4th and 5th grade, students continue to work with Jett, but they also get to start working with LEGO EV3s, which uses the Scratch-like, block-oriented programming language.
“No matter what the project, the excitement the kids show when they have the opportunity to create something and get a robot to move just the way they planned is amazing,” Causey writes. “We had a little girl start clapping because her robot was moving for the first time, and it was just overwhelming to watch. Providing kids opportunities to be successful and to believe in their own potential—it’s what makes teaching the best job in the world.”