Learning Through Robotics
How can building robots help elementary, middle and even high school students learn about math, physics, reading, writing and engineering? And what kind of robots are we talking about here? R2D2, C3PO from Star Wars or that stunning robot babe from the silent film Metropolis?
No, at least not at ESU's Teachers College.These are much smaller and toy-like but no less important.
In fact, Dr. Matt Seimears, assistant education professor, uses robots in experimental ways to inspire his students--who will become future teachers--to use robots in their classrooms. What will their K-12 students someday learn?
Seimears challenges his class in a competition with middle school and high school students to build robots that must perform preset tasks, such as collecting moon rocks or delivering a First-Aid Kit to an injured person. The robot that does it the best wins. The students, both middle and high school and those from ESU, learn about teamwork too and how working together builds winners.
He learned about robots in the classroom by accident. He teaches science students who will become middle and high school teachers, and he discovered robots as what he thought would be a small enhancement. Little did he know that in time robots would take over his classroom.
Working with Lego Mindstorm, the next phase of programmable units, he began using Tetrix robot-building kits. "You can program the brick—the robot's brain—and tell it what to do," he explains. Something called STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—is what his students learned too.
"Students have to learn to work together to design and engineer their robots," he says. "It's a holistic, hands-on learning process, and I believe students learn best when they use their hands."
His ESU students compete each fall and spring against each other but also against 3-7 teams of 8th graders. Outside, independent judges choose the contest winners. "As a matter of fact, during last spring semester, it was a team of 8th graders who beat us," he says, adding that "Pittsco, the builders of the sets, study our students to make their products better."
The company flew Seimears to Washington, D.C., to speak to more than 50 SKILLS USA representatives about the robot module model. ESU is on the cutting-edge of using the robot-building technique in the classroom. Scott Capes, an ESU graduate, also uses STEM in his Emporia High School classes. Seimears and Capes work together to put on the competition. ESU is the pilot site for STEM. "We're now partners with Vernier and Skills USA," Seimears says. "Our goal is to get students to go into science and technology fields."
Zach Rampy, an ESU junior, knows the value of using robots in science classrooms. "Students learn to think critically," he says. "Science becomes more than a pencil and paper exercise. It's a hands-on experience, so students better grasp the science concepts involved."
"Building robots allowed me to think like a kid again," says ESU senior Megan Biehler. "It's neat that these 8th graders beat us."