For STEM Educators, Robots Are A Powerful New Tool

Educators are finding novel ways to drive interest in STEM.

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STEM fields are growing, but unfortunately, many kids don’t seem especially interested.

The US Department of Education notes that over the decade from 2010-2020, the number of jobs requiring strong training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) will grow at a significantly faster rate than other professions.

The problem, though, is that most students won’t go into these lucrative fields. According to the Department of Education, “only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career.”

Fortunately, some educators are exploring novel ways to promote STEM literacy—and robots play a surprisingly significant role.

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A Need for Tactile Teaching Techniques

To tackle the STEM problem educators need to start early. Research shows that children who acquire mathematics skills before entering elementary school have a much greater chance of academic success later in life. Problem-solving skills and critical thinking are also vital additions to a balanced early childhood education curriculum.

“Much of math and science instruction in schools is theoretical,” explains June Lin, a robotics-based education professional.

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As Lin writes, educators need to find ways to “bring STEM to life” in classrooms.

“In elementary school, students are still learning with their eyes and hands—drawing, molding, and manipulating objects,” Lin says. “They are starting the tough transition to learning by reading, and robots make it possible for them to work through problems visually and experiment with concepts they are learning.”

Educators like Lin believe that robotics provides an exceptional introduction to STEM learning, since children engage easily with robots. By teaching kids to design, build, and code robots, educators can teach the essential skills associated with STEM.

Perhaps more importantly, this approach provides children with motivation; after all, there’s nothing cooler than a fully functional robot.

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Courtesy of KOOV

Robots as Teachers

Recently, Sony Electronics launched its own robotic learning system via Indiegogo, following a successful February release in Japan and China. The project, KOOV, allows kids to intuitively embrace their natural creativity and curiosity to acquire essential STEM skills. The KOOV system uses a process that education professionals call “inquiry-based learning.”

With KOOV, children construct objects using colorful three-dimensional blocks, which can fit together in more than 100 different ways. Young learners then add battery-powered wheels, lights, sensors, and other electronic components. To bring those electronics to life, KOOVers must learn to code.

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Courtesy of KOOV

That’s actually easier than it sounds. KOOV features a 30-hour coding course that starts with the basics, gradually adding new skills and concepts while introducing users to visual programming via a simple drag-and-drop interface. Children learn how to find and address problems, design new features, and gradually create more complex devices.

To kids aged 8 and up, KOOV feels like playing. However, KOOV isn’t a toy—it’s the blueprint to success in STEM, brilliantly presented in an engaging way.

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Courtesy of KOOV

Creativity in the Curriculum

Some schools are incorporating coding and robotics into their education policies.

The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx, reports the New York Times, “requires all its students to take computer science courses in each year of middle school.”

Lab School computer science teacher Ben Samuels-Kalow has seen the benefits of this requirement:

“I’ve literally had a conversation with a student where she’s saying, ‘I really don’t like math,’ as she’s walking me through a JavaScript function to have an interactive photo gallery on a web page that she had also built from scratch,” Mr. Samuels-Kalow told the Times. “I looked at her and said, ‘This is harder math than what you’re doing in your math class.’”

“Mr. Samuels-Kalow said he found that students are often willing to work harder in his classes than in their other classes,” writes the Times, “because the rewards of…being able to play a game that they designed were so enticing.”

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Teaching More than Technology

Educators say that robotics and coding competitions may provide another avenue for keeping STEM students motivated. Macungie, PA-based teacher Julia Dweck includes robots in her classroom and coaches her elementary school’s robotics team.

“[Learning about robotics] helps students develop a respect for their own abilities,” Dweck told the education website Getting Smart.

“As students develop strategies to facilitate the learning process, they experienced growth in their meta-cognitive skills, too. Introduction to coding and robotics is as relevant to our world as learning to write. Today’s learner should experience opportunities to practice coding and robotics in the classroom from an early age. This foundation will serve them as learners, digital citizens and world leaders.”

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These competitions also teach teamwork—another exceptionally helpful STEM skill—along with empathy.

“I learned to always include all of my teammates because it isn’t fair if nobody else gets a chance to do things and we can finish anything on time if we just work together,” an 8-year-old robotics team member explained to Getting Smart.

Coding and robotics keep children engaged, which is ultimately the most important factor in long-term academic performance. Creative education programs may hold the key to solving America’s STEM problem; by starting with the simplest concepts and developing core skills, kids can gain the technical literacy they need for success.

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Learn more about KOOV by visiting the system’s Indiegogo page here.

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