Robotics is attracting more student interest, and there’s a reason–when students can make real-world connections between what they learn in the classroom and exciting careers, their engagement and achievement often improve.
Educators across the country are working to establish robotics clubs after school, they’re creating robotics units in STEM classes, and they’re doing their best to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn just how essential robotics is to our daily lives.
As the director of blended learning in the Lancaster Independent School District (TX), Kimberly Lane Clark works with district campuses to help them implement successful blended learning practices. In that role, she frequently incorporates personalized learning and differentiated instruction.
Between innovation labs, STEM schools, and focuses on entrepreneurship and software design, the district’s schools are varied and students have countless opportunities to participate in activities aligned with their interests.
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Clark also has extensive experience using LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3, a LEGO software platform that supports programmable robots with a computer, modular sensors and motors, and LEGO parts.
Clark has seen some clearly-established benefits arise from robotics instruction in her district–here are a few of those benefits:
1. Confidence: “It definitely builds confidence,” Clark says. “Nine times out of 10, they’re not going to get it right immediately. It builds their confidence in collaborating with each other. Often, younger kids have a hard time delegating roles and switching roles–this gives them confidence in that. If they have a PBL, they know they’re working toward an end product–they need to have confidence in collaborating with each other. This builds confidence in kids to know they CAN do it. It gives them adrenaline to keep moving forward–you want them to do that in this tech-driven world.”
2. Student-centered: “All the activities are student-centered,” she says. “Students are learning from each other. The teacher is a facilitator and is there to guide students and ask thought-provoking questions to make students think differently in their groups.” Some teachers are more reluctant to give students the freedom they need to guide their learning, but it’s exactly this model that helps build teacher confidence, Clark adds. “This is a good way to explore with the students, and it gives students choice and voice.”
3. Reaching all students: “Often, kids in certain areas don’t get to experience robotics at home. The students get the ability to compete and create, and that’s what’s important,” Clark says. “That’s a huge benefit we want for the kids–to be able to have the ability to pick and choose, to have a robotics club, to have an innovation lab, to be able to tinker. This is what we want our kids to see and do. A lot of times, kids don’t have those opportunities. That’s the benefit of having LEGO Mindstorms.”
4. Representation: “We bring in speakers and connect with virtual experts through Google Hangouts, so our kids can speak to engineers,” Clark says. Last year, students went to an Amazon facility to see robotics in action–a trip that helped the students make real-world connections between the robotics classroom and potential career paths. “We use robots at school, and students come up with different ideas around what they might want to build–now they’re able to see that in action. It’s real life and it’s about exposure and opportunity.”