Connecting Educational Robotics to Science

by geralt on https://pixabay.com/en/artificial-intelligence-brain-think-3382507/

Robotics is not only the future, but it is also the present. By familiarizing students with programming, sensors, and automation, they hone critical computational thinking skills needed to succeed in both the 21st century's workforce and everyday life. Academically, educational robotics affords a wide variety of learning opportunities because the discipline has STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and even STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) as its prerequisites. Educational robotics is always interdisciplinary in ways that are tangible and applicable to students. Additionally, activities involving educational robotics necessitate that students collaborate, think computationally, troubleshoot (identify and solve problems), and innovate which are fundamental skills for 21st-century professionals. 

In science classrooms, educational robotics has the potential to be used as the context for teaching fundamental scientific methods and practices, such as the scientific method, observation, experimentation, data collection and analysis. It also allows for investigations of applied physics and mechanical concepts, systems thinking, and of course artificial intelligence. Studying the robot and its functioning could also be a line of inquiry in a science classroom but educational robotics is not the study of robotics for the sake of robotics. It is the use of a robot as a pedagogical tool for learning about the practices and concepts of science.  

Tips, suggestions, & some potential standards to target

  • Organize your classroom to facilitate project-based learning (PBL) and have students collaborate in teams to complete projects. Provide rubrics for both collaborative efforts and for the deliverable at the beginning of the project so that students recognize your expectations. 
  • Have students use journals, scheduling charts, and other planning tools to plan and execute project development.
  • Improve communication and collaboration skills by allowing students to present to one another and ask for feedback.
  • Remind students at the start of an open-ended project that there will be more than one "correct" solution and that constructive criticism is intended to improve projects not to criticize them. 
  • Ask questions of students that will help them to consider prior knowledge learned in this and other classes.
  • Let your students' math, technology, or other teachers know what students are working on in your class so that they might assist and/or provide guidance and suggestions.
  • Use interactions between the robot and its environment to investigate motion and stability, forces and interactions, and energy changes within systems (NGS Standards: HS-PS2-1 & HS-PS3-1).
  • Use the robot's wireless capabilities to investigate waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer (NGS Standards: HS-PS4-2 & HS-PS4-5).
  • Use testings of the robot as opportunities for experimentation and data collection. For example, running a program to have the robot pick up an object and move it across the room at different speeds with its claw arm at different heights while holding all other variables constant could create at least a 3-level (fast, steady, and slow speeds) by 3-level (raised high, mid-level, and low) experiment with potentials for both main effects and an interaction when measuring the robot's stability. Stability can be operationally defined by the class in order to measure it, or even simplified to whether or not the robot tips.
  • Organize simple single-variable experiments to have less experienced students investigate the effects of different features of the robot's build on its speed, stability, and/or strength. 
  • Facilitate investigations where students modify a robot's build or create a new robot that minimizes the force on a macroscopic object during a collision (NGS Standard: HS-PS2-3).  
  • Ask student teams to design and create a robot that could reduce the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity. Have teams discuss the designs of other teams and the impact that design would have in order to further refine their prototypes (NGS Standards: HS-LS2-7 & HS-ESS3-4).

Links to sample activities

Beginner:

Intermediate:

Advanced:

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