Starting anything new can feel daunting whether it’s joining a beginner tango class or setting up a new education programme at your school. The key to giving your shiny new project the best possible start is to do your research.
The good news for any teacher who wants to introduce robotics into their curriculum is that we’ve done the research for you. Read on to discover our 5 top tips on how to start teaching this fun and fascinating subject at your school.
What value is there in teaching my students robotics?
If you haven’t already thought about setting up a robotics workshop for your students, it’s definitely worth considering. Robotics is being taken up by a growing number of schools around the globe because it teaches children vital STEAM skills. Introducing coding and programming to children when they are school helps to prepare them for entry into an increasingly technologically-driven workplace when they reach adulthood.
For more information on why teaching kids how to program is definitely a good thing click here.
Imagine a lesson in which students were tasked with creating an interactive sculpture that depicts human exploration of a new planet. After constructing a surface and some suitably alien-looking scenery using mixed art materials, the students must build a robotic arm using a robotics kit, and just like an astronaut might do, program it to handle a small unknown object.
In such an interactive lesson children can develop engineering, mechanical, and motor skills through building the robot and use maths, coding, and programming skills to bring it to life. They can get creative making an ‘out of this world’ setting for their robot and learn about gravity and the mechanics and physics involved in operating the arm.
Robotics classes in schools can help girls to discover an interest in studying STEAM subjects and allow them to build up their confidence leading a team in this male-dominated arena. Female students who have studied robotics at school or in an afterschool club are more likely to consider studying STEAM subjects at high school and pursuing a career in STEAM.
Research published by the Afterschool Alliance in 2011 found that afterschool STEM programs provide enrichment for underrepresented groups in STEAM – namely, women and ethnic minorities. The Alliance found that participants in these programs benefited from improved attitudes to STEM fields and careers, increased STEM knowledge and skills, and were more likely to graduate and pursue a STEM career.
The program most relevant to this research was an after-school robotics program called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), of which 41% of attendees were girls. Researchers at Brandeis University conducted a retrospective study of FIRST alumni. From this study came proven results of an increased understanding of technology and science in everyday life.
Not only did 80% of participants report increased self- confidence, but also “86 percent reported an increased interest in science and technology generally and 69 percent had an increased interest in STEM careers.” Moreover, “92 percent of respondents stated that they ‘want to learn more about science and technology’ as a result of their participation in FLL,” a subgroup of FIRST.
Practical robotics workshops have another winning feature besides being able to deliver a truck-load of positive learning outcomes – they are so much fun children don’t even notice they are learning! But just like an amazing summer music festival, a lot of work has to happen before the fun can begin.
Tips to get you started
The following five tips are essential snippets of advice to bear in mind before you run out and start buying robotics kits and booking the computer room for a double period. Each tip tackles a real-life problem you might encounter while setting up your workshop.
This information from RoboCAMP is based on more than a decade of experience teaching robotics and helping teachers around the world to introduce this subject into their school’s curriculum.
#1 Well-informed is well-equipped
Those robotics kits you found in a cupboard at school might look nice but are they appropriate for the mix of ages and abilities in your class? Do they present enough opportunities for the kids to be creative? How much assembly do they require?
Before you integrate existing equipment into a robotics class or rush out to buy new equipment, assess your needs. Then, consider your students’ needs and abilities. Research different robotics kits and manufacturers, checking to make sure you can get replacement parts for example. Make sure too that kits you want to use are compatible with the operating system on your school’s computers. Finally, think about your budget. OK, now you are ready to write that shopping list!
Kitting your robotics class out correctly is really important, but it does require some up-front research which can be time-consuming and – because of the number and variety of kits out there – a little overwhelming. If you could benefit from some expert advice on what equipment to choose, contact us at email@example.com and we’ll do what we can to help you.
#2 Making time for making robots
Just like the robots themselves robotics lessons are made up from several different parts. Your students will need to be introduced to the topic, given instructions on how to build the robot and how to bring it to life using coding and programming. They’ll need time to test out the robots they create, and you’ll need time to impart the STEAM knowledge behind the project to your class.
If you base your lesson around a theme which you want to explore – for example your class are building robot vending machines which you plan to use to spark a discussion about diet and nutrition – then you need to allow time for that happen too.
Avoid running out of time or over schedule by preparing your curriculum ahead. Time each lesson out to last a minimum of 90 minutes. Or, split your lesson into two sections – one where you focus on the building, and a second where you focus on the programming – so that your class doesn’t feel rushed.
#3 Teaming up for success
One of the reasons why kids like robotics lessons is that they involve playing with lots of different parts. Fun as this is, it can lead to bits of kit going missing and the creation of an almighty mess. Spare yourself a lengthy hunt for missing parts and a tedious clean-up session by roping in another teacher to support you during your robotics lesson. A second teacher can assist the children if they run into difficulties during the construction phase, and can help to keep the class running on schedule.
Divide your students into teams of two. This has the triple advantage of saving money by halving the number of kits needed, speeding up the construction part of the lesson, and encouraging your class to learn about cooperation, teamwork, and shared responsibility.
#4 Getting in shape
A robotics lesson is highly practical. Each student pair will require adequate space in which to build and test their robot. For students who are neatly seated in rows as per the universally traditional classroom layout, finding enough room to work can be a struggle.
Solve the space issue and encourage collaboration by seating your class in a U-shape or something similar that also offers good visibility. This style of seating is especially useful if you are teaching your workshop alone as it can speed up the robot assembly stage of the lesson.
For example, when desks are arranged in a horse-shoe, a pair of students who are struggling to build their robot can easily observe and learn from other students who have already reached the next stage of construction. The students having difficulties can copy their neighbours or ask them for help, rather than having to wait for the teacher to assist them.
A seating arrangement in which all the students can easily see what is going on makes the testing stage of the lesson more fun too. At this point, depending on how many helpers and testing stations you have, your class of 12 six-year-olds might all have to stand in a queue at the teacher’s desk to connect their robot and find out if it works. This can be tedious, time-consuming, and frustrating for your students.
However, if the children are seated in a U shape they can all easily see and share in the progress each pair has made as every robot is tested, making for a more engaging lesson for all.
#5 That’s about the size of it
Your students are likely to need support when it comes to completing their robot projects, especially if they are new to robotics. In our experience big groups + robotics kits = chaos, unless sufficient help is at hand.
To avoid the teacher being overwhelmed and the children getting frustrated at not being able to finish their robots, we advise a classroom ratio of one teacher to every 12 students working in six pairs. With two teachers it’s realistic to be able to handle 16 students working with 8 robots.
Ready, steady, robot!
Although they can be a little messy and require some planning and forethought, robotics classes are a fun way to teach children essential STEAM skills in a way that will fire their imaginations and that they’ll remember for years to come.
If you’re interested in running a robotics workshop and would like some more advice on how to make it a resounding success, then register for our free webinar on How to Run a Robotics Workshop for kids aged 10-16.
In addition to plenty of time-saving and organizational tips the webinar will include information on where to find new robotics lesson ideas. You’ll find out which kits are our favorites and how to pick the right kit for your students. Plus, you’ll get the chance to watch a demo robotics lesson and meet a functioning robot.
To register for the free webinar, click here. In the meantime if you have any questions or you would like some advice about how to introduce robotics into your school’s curriculum please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll respond as soon as we’re able.