Jane H. Eberle
Robots Teach Skills Across Disciplines
Associate Education Professor Jane Eberle holds a finished robot in the palm of one hand and a memory brick in the other as she explains how this little toy can have a huge impact on the way elementary, middle and high school students learn.
"Robots can be used as an innovative way to teach skills in all disciplines," she declares.
For example, Eberle believes that literature, such as books like I Robot, and writing about the ethical meaning of having robots in our lives can be part of what is learned. Add math, physics, the basic sciences and even philosophy and social sciences to the mix, and students become deeply engaged in the robots they build.
As an elementary teacher, Professor Eberle used Legos in her classrooms to motivate students. She quickly saw the benefits of hands-on learning, but her goals are much broader at ESU. "I want my students to integrate technology into every elementary classroom subject," she explains. "Study after study shows high school students drop out because of a lack of interest. I want these students to get interested in learning again."
Her future teachers learn the cross-disciplinary nature of using Lego robots in the classroom. "They can read science fiction about robots, watch films about them, and write fantasy pieces as well," she says. "They have to use graphing calculations in building them and thus they learn math concepts. They explore the ethics of building robots and learn how different cultures use robots in their lives."
But it's that teamwork concept that is most important. "Kids who may not have the hands-on skills depend on others who do," she says. "It becomes a peer tutoring exercise. Students learn the strengths and weaknesses of others and learn that we all bring important skills to the table to make the world work."
"And it prepares them for the real world."
Eberle gives her students the materials to build the robots, but it's up to them to do it. She merely teaches them how to use the computer to program them.
And she asks her students the tough questions: "How did building the robots, studying the literature and writing about them change your values and your views?"
They learn something else important too: Self-esteem because a person learns that by building something that works she or he understands that "yes, I can do this."