Robotics in the Classroom

Robotics are essential to our economy and our workplaces. As a special report in Bloomberg Businessweek noted last year, in addition to playing a key role in manufacturing and other established industries, robotics are essential to developing industries, including companies that produce wind turbines, solar panels and advanced batteries and the automobiles they power.

Robotics also play a valuable role in the classroom. We talked with Donald McCoy about the value of robotics as a teaching tool. A retired IBM electrical engineer, Mr. McCoy last year launched his own company, Donald McCoy and Associates, to help demonstrate how robotics can be used to inspire both students and educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum.

1) Why is there interest in robotics for teaching STEM content? What is the value?
The value is in increased learning. We know that most students learn and stay engaged longer with topics they are interested in; robotics is clearly one of those topics. Indirectly, the entertainment industry has helped spark the interests in STEM with popular high-tech science-fiction projects. For example, people have been fascinated with robotics for decades. From Star Trek to Star Wars, many students have entered engineering schools in hopes of developing the next sophisticated robot or Go-Go Gadget. As a result, STEM industry leaders are seeking students that have been trained to be problem-solvers and innovators to take on new global challenges, such as life sciences, energy management, and technologies to advance our social well-being and needs.

2) How does integrating a robotics kit/project into a curriculum impact students? Short term benefits? Long term gains?

Curriculum that has been designed with lesson plans that include robotics technologies and/or project-based instruction has been proven effective in developing hands-on experiences, self-esteem, grade performance, communications, and teamwork. Robotics kits are very versatile with components suitable for many K-12 science, technology, and math lab and classroom projects.

The short-term benefits include the immediate gratification of success in completing assigned projects and the challenge of working in teams to solve problems and to be creative.

The long term gain is that students start building a personal inventory of experiences, usage of tools, applied equations, and collaboration much earlier in their development cycle. Frankly, even if a career in STEM is not desired by the student, the applied math, problem-solving, and logical thinking will help in building life skills.

3) What kinds of standards can be met with a robotics project in the classroom?

There are many robotics projects and applications that can be applied to ‘standard course of studies’ in science and technology and mathematics as defined nationally and internationally. Nearly any curriculum that includes a lab experiment can take advantage of using a robotics central processing unit for data collection, calculations, and/or sensor technologies to increase STEM learning. For example, there are robotics kit sensor technologies that detect and monitor soil moisture pH levels, ultraviolet light, temperature, and conductivity. The collected data can be graphed, analyzed, and reported on using real-world advanced methods. By integrating the appropriate robotics technologies into traditional classroom and lab projects, educators provide students with an opportunity to learn about research, data analysis, technologies, and engineering practices while adding excitement to learning.

4) Looking ahead, what aspects of this experience could translate to a work environment?

All robotics and STEM projects are designed to translate into real-world work experiences. The projects demonstrate real-world concepts and applications. The projects help develop student skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, hand-on experiences, and teamwork. It is important to cultivate and nurture sound behaviors in leadership, time management, effective communications, and responsibility early. Today’s employers are seeking well-rounded students that are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and team players.

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