With a lot of help from a week-long robotics course through Carnegie-Mellon (Robotics Academy - Certified EV3 Online Professional Development) and a half-day spent with a Robotics teacher in a neighboring district (thank you again to Alan, Pete, and Paul), I set up the class based on problem-solving and teamwork. The students receive a list of tasks or challenges that they must complete with the help of a partner. As the students move through the list, the challenges get more difficult. The final challenge requires all or most of the skills mastered in the previous tasks or earlier challenges. The students get some direct instruction from me, then I facilitate the process of discovering their own solution. There are situations where I provide a little extra help or challenges that require a little extra instruction, but the students end up learning more from each other, and through trial-and-error, than from the direct instruction.
The only limit to the creation of the Challenges is the teacher’s imagination. Simply start with a real-world task that is performed by a robot, or even a task that we would like a robot to perform. Then break that task into small components that could work together to complete the task. If the actual task seems impossible based on the limitations of the sensors, software, or hardware, then the student challenge is manipulated as necessary to create an approximation of the real-world scenario.
The possibilities for a Robotics course are endless and the rewards for our students are immeasurable. Students are engaged in active learning, discovery learning, hands-on learning, teamwork, problem-solving, real-world applications, technology skills, basic construction and architecture, verbal communication, writing skills, science, engineering, physics, and mathematics. Robotics can even include art and music: architecture is considered an art form and the design element could be expanded beyond the needs of simple function; and music could be incorporated in any number of ways: while I’ve never required a musical component, I’ve had several groups add musical notes and melodies to their programs, having their robots play at certain points of completion or throughout the entire challenge (‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘O Canada’ have been the most memorable). Never mind STEM courses, we can head right into the new world of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics)!
My students are excited every day. They can’t wait to complete each new challenge. They are so eager for more Robotics that the school has agreed to let me create a second, more advanced course, with (hopefully) a competition component. If someone would have told me when I was in grade school that I would have a career where I get to play with LEGO’s, I probably would have laughed. As I look towards summer and the creation of this new course, I can’t help being just as excited as my students.
About the author: Jeremy Beichner is a Secondary Mathematics and Introduction to Robotics teacher at Cassadaga Valley CSD. He has integrated the LEGO EV3 technology kits into his curriculum and is happy to share his success story with others around the region.