Edit 1/28: I replaced the link below with the original “register” link for SLJ and you should be able to register and watch the webinar!
Today I presented my thoughts on integrating robotics into library programming for a webinar presented by SLJ and ISTE. You may still be able to register and watch the session starting tomorrow. Here are the slides I made in Canva for the session:
To be honest, I’ve often said, “My students don’t do”full” robotic projects.” Then when I show other educators what my makers are doing in the library, they reply, “That’s a lot of robotics!”
So I think the term may need rebranding.
This conversation brings me back to this particular Twitter chat from the summer, where I said, “Oh we don’t really do that.” Then proceeded to show like 40 different robotic-type projects my students made…..
Robotics is not necessarily a team of afterschool students building a bot component by component and then battling in an arena (think Robot wars.)
Instead, I think it’s important to look at what we mean when we say “robot.” In 123 Robotics Experiments for the Evil Genius the first section tackles the ever changing definition of “Robots.” Here are some consistencies:
- it is a mechanical device
- it is programmable
- it is a machine that is mobile
- it is sensory
- it sometimes mimics human behavior
Once you put it like that, then yes, my students at Lamar last year did many robotics projects with littleBits, Hummingbird robot kits, and of course even made their own simple machine vibro-bots.
Following this broad definition of robotics, I think working with pre-built robots like Sphero and Dash not only count as robotics they focus on one of the most important aspects – programming.
I like using these pre-built robots to teach my students the literacy of coding. I think it’s important that kids learn the language of coding because coding builds our apps, our webpages, and the many, many microcontrollers hidden in our electronic gadgets.
But another thing I love about robots are the open-ended challenges. Last week, I had BLAST students in for a design challenge with Sphero. The students were tasked with creating an obstacle course and then had to attempt programming Sphero to drive through their course. On top of that, we decided to make the entire exercise collaborative BETWEEN classes. So the first class designed the basic course, and the next class came and started adding dimension with cardboard and other recyclables. Some students even used littleBits to make “smart” obstacles.
Here is the beginning of the designing and thinking for this group project….
The next class of students really wanted to keep using the table (lower right picture in the above Instagram) as the starting base, but wanted a more secure ramp for Sphero. They built this, but it was too fast:
The last class wanted to fix the speed and still get Sphero to jump out of this cardboard tube, but they were having a problem with Sphero landing “safely.”
“J” was in this group and he said wanted to build something to “swing” Sphero down to safety. Just as a sidebar, “J” is in the library makerspace everyday. He comes quite often and helps others build things, but I hadn’t seen him take charge and build his own invention until he was introduced to this challenge.
He spent about 45 minutes working on an idea with K’NEX and I have to say, this 1 minute video below might’ve made my whole year. In fact, here is my reaction I posted on Facebook later in the evening:
“This. So much THIS. This is why having a class come in and attempt to solve a problem or complete a design challenge is AWESOME. The kid who made this Rube Goldberg-like invention out of K’NEX, comes in all the time and “messes around in the makerspace.” Today, the problem of building an obstacle course for Sphero, challenged him to think outside of his normal making routine. He decided to make a “swing” so that Sphero could safely come out of this crazy ramp. He spent his entire lunch working on it. AND IT IS AWESOME and simple and it works. Unfortunately, I did not capture the video footage of him shouting, “Yes! YES! I did it! I made a contraption and it works! After so many fails!”
This is where we can really start talking about the impact of robotics and makerspaces at school. How does this type of learning engage students? How does it help them learn to problem solve? How does it help them become innovators?
Without the problem created by the other students of incorporating this table base and ramp into his group’s design, would “J” still have made this invention?
Plus, the next day, he came to the library early and showed his other friends “his invention.” He practiced the “blind driving” exercise his teacher assigned because he wanted to be the best at communicating and driving his own course. Then all of his friends (who are not in the BLAST class) all took turns driving the course BEFORE SCHOOL EVEN STARTED!
I shared this story during the webinar and I loved Sharon Thompson’s take on it. She spoke about “J” wanting to persevere and complete this project, even though his designs kept “failing.” She spoke about the secret power robotics and coding possess by teaching our students to persevere. Her idea is that students do not get frustrated when they write the wrong line of code and get an error message. When they build a robot that fails they do not take it personal. It isn’t the same as a “red mark” on a paper. I tend to agree. Plus, I love seeing this group of kids excited about learning and excited about thinking! (I could write about this all day, but I’ve got to save some of it for the ABC-Clio book the #superlibrarianhubs, Diana Rendina, and I are working on!)
Links pertinent to my presentation:
Early Childhood- Middle Grade Robots
Upper Elementary to Middle School
Middle school to High School
Other Maker Resources