The following questions were from an interview conducted by an Elementary Education student at University of Oklahoma.
1. What are the benefits of having Robotics in elementary schools?
Robotics, or building anything, increases a child’s spatial visualization skills. In other words, it helps them see in 3-D which helps in design, creativity and “making” other things (think Maker movement). It also increases their self-esteem. In a study done in Peru, they found that in 2nd, 4th and 6th grades, students who used LEGO had an increase in self-esteem. It also increased their technology, language and math skills.
2. How can Robotics be beneficial for students who will not grow up to be engineers?
I believe an engineering education is the best education anyone can get – even if they don’t want to be an engineer because the education teaches you how to think. Students learn analytical and problem solving thought processes that help in everything that they do – even raising children (“Cheaper by the Dozen” was a movie about two industrial engineers raising 12 children).
Robotics is also a great way to figure out who you are. It’s fun, challenging and can help students find their strengths. They learn to work in teams and communicate with other people. They share ideas, come up with innovative solutions and problem solve. Again, these skills can help in everything that they do.
Another important point is exposure. How can students know what they like or don’t like and what skills they have or can develop, if they aren’t exposed to STEM based opportunities? In the United States, 70% of the jobs require at least 4 years of math in high school. Robotics can give them the motivation to keep their aspirations high. They are exposed to the application of science, engineering, technology and math. They have the opportunity to know why they take science and math classes and have another reason to pay attention in class.
There is no downside. The worst case is that they find they don’t like it. That exposure is also important to their development.
3. How easy can it be to incorporate Robotics and Robotics-like activities into a school if you are a teacher who has no experience with robots or engineering?
In my opinion, if the teacher has the time and funding or materials, it’s very doable. The most critical elements are:
- Finding an engineer that is willing to help mentor and talk about real-world applications.
- Finding another teacher that has done it and talking to or working with them to get it started.
Some teachers have great difficulty with classroom control in engineering design. They are used to having very tight control so that their students behave in a certain way. Engineering design requires the opposite. They have to be OK with the class being loud, crazy or chaotic. Teamwork, brainstorming and designing are not quiet and orderly processes. Beginning to teach engineering or robotics in an informal club environment is a very low-stress/high-reward way to get experience teaching these subjects.
Engineering design also has a “fail” component which is opposite to how most classes are taught. Learning from failure is critical to good design. Teachers who emphasize that there are no wrong answers and that design is a constantly evolving process usually have great classroom success.