Robots - toys or learning tool?

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Robots - toys or learning tool?

  • Comments 3

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the new Robosapiens. Well it looks like a great little toy but what else? My friend also sent me a link to a course at Northeaster University that uses this same type of robot as part of a networking course.

More and more I think we are going to see robots in our classrooms. They are a lot more interesting that a lot of other things in class. Plus of course they have the potential to change the way we live our lives. I know that my Roomba has already changed the way I think about keeping the house clean.

I'm not sure where robots are going to go in the future but I think it will be useful if we teach students using and about them now so that they can better create the future.

  • I give robot presentations to Elementary and Middle Schools in the Southeast. One major advantage of robots as the subject is that the children are immediately engaged.
    I usually begin my presentation with, "How many of you have home computers?" All hands shoot up (except in the most underserved schools). I point out that if I had asked the question 25 years ago to the parents of these kids, 1 or 2 hands would go up - either a kit computer or a TRS-80.
    Then, "How many have a home robot?" Surprisingly, one or two hands always go up - either a Roomba or "my brother's toy robot" or a LEGO Mindstorms kit.
    The kids make the connection. They see, as I do, that robotics is the "computer science" of their generation. If these kids are going to explore space - they will do it with robots.
    I work with FIRST as a Senior Mentor - spreading the good word of robotics (and teaching the care and feeding of roboticists) in an attempt to inspire the students to consider careers in Science and Technology. The robot is just the hook, but an incredibly effective one. When I show up with 'bots at a school, I am the subject of conversation for weeks. I don't think I would get more mind-share if I showed up with a dinosaur.
    Robots do more than prepare our kids for the future - they can envision themselves as the "Bill Gates" of robotics.
    I believe that this is the cusp of the "Robotic Age" - comparable to the "Computer Age" that we are ostensibly experiencing now.
    Want to know a good source of robot parts for free? That broken ink-jet printer has optical sensors (encoders), bump sensors, good DC motors, belts, gears, and shafts.
  • FIRST is a great program that really gets kids interested in technology beyond the robots. I've been involved with a team in New Hampshire for the last 5 years and it has been a great experience. The FIRST Lego League for Middle School students seems to be getting a lot of kids interested in robots, programming, and engineering at an even younger age.
  • Robots are great for learning higher order cognitive skills. I have used Lego Mindstorms with kids. These little programmable blocks are what I would have loved to have as a kid. But in promoting physical objects over virtual ones, we are displaying that we are Prensky's "Digital immigrants" wedded to old ways of perceiving the world. The power and flexibility of virtual worlds exceeds that of the robot.

    http://online.haileybury.vic.edu.au/sites/edrington
    http://www.freewebs.com/schoolgamemaker/
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