Learning robotics appeals to both abstract and down-to-earth learners

Learning robotics appeals to both abstract and down-to-earth learners

     We don’t give our teachers enough credit. They perform a crucial service, charged with preparing our children for the future. And it is no small task: they must teach a host of subjects to students who can be unappreciative and unfocused, often with little pay as compensation. Science teachers are perhaps tasked with the hardest job of all, since these subjects not only require knowledge of facts, but also a fundamental shift to how one thinks, perceives, and analyzes information. Luckily, some science subjects are easier to teach than others. Robotics has enough interesting, engaging aspects to appeal to any and all students, not just those who are interested in hard sciences.  

     Psychologists tell us that there are several different kinds of learners, ranging from auditory, visual (which is the largest group), and kinesthetic learners. Visual learners need to see something, like a picture, video, graph, or chart in order to understand it. Auditory learners do best in an environment in which they are listening, such as a lecture or speech. Kinesthetic learners are the hardest to reach in a traditional classroom, which places emphasis on discipline and order. These people need to move, act, test, and use their hands to understand what is going on.

     Robotics is the perfect fit for this last group, but is a broad enough subject that it doesn’t leave out the other styles of learners. A good teacher will alter his or her teaching style to accommodate these differences. It can even be a great opportunity to foster cooperation, encouraging students to find others whose skills complement their own and create groups. Visual learners may want to design the robot, using their spatial reasoning to create an idea of what to make. Auditory learners will pick up on what the teacher says, following instructions and keeping the group in order. They may also gravitate to components like speakers and microphones, which can easily be included in the design. And the kinesthetic learners will love nothing more than to build the robot, using their hands and tools to make something wonderful.

This picture shows how robotics engages kinesthetic learners. Notice how all the students are standing up, and the second and fourth students quite literally have their hands on their projects.

This picture shows how robotics engages kinesthetic learners. Notice how all the students are standing up, and the second and fourth students quite literally have their hands on their projects.

     One of the most difficult things to do when teaching a course is to keep every single student engaged. Everyone is different, of course, and they will like different things. It’s up to the teacher, through charisma, planning, and skill at his or her craft, to get the students invested in what is being taught. This obstacle is compounded in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) class. The subject matter can often be abstract, of seemingly very little importance on the students’ lives. We’ve all heard an exasperated classmate exclaim “when will I ever need to know this?!” To be fair, calculus and physics won’t necessarily impact many of the students. Those who enjoy abstract topics in math and science are in the minority. While it may sound cheesy, these challenges present an opportunity to see what students want from a STEM course and tailor specifically to their desires while still instructing them on the material.

This isn’t what a science class should look like, but unfortunately is the reality for many students who feel left out or confused. Robotics is a way to engage those students!

This isn’t what a science class should look like, but unfortunately is the reality for many students who feel left out or confused. Robotics is a way to engage those students!

     Robotics addresses many of these issues, simply by its nature. It is challenging and requires knowledge in a range of topics from engineering to electronics to coding, but it is based in real-world problem solving. Robots are fundamentally a physical entity. This fixes the issue of students wondering why this is important to study. It also keeps the abstract, brainy learners tuned in by maintaining a scientific basis. All the components and ideas are rooted in science, so there is a wealth of ideas to explore.

     The goal of STEM classes is to prepare our students for a technological world, one in which technological literacy is not a luxury but rather a necessity. But even for those students who will not advance into careers in one of these fields, their time in a robotics class will not be wasted. At its core, STEM fields all teach critical thinking and problem solving. More important than any equations or facts is the ability to break down complex phenomena, gather information, analyze, and formulate ideas. Even if you never use a computer for anything other than email and social media, being able to think is an invaluable skill. Robotics is no exception. Instead of thinking critically about abstract numbers, properties, or virtual interactions though, robotics presents real-world challenges. It requires teamwork, which is another benefit of this subject. Being able to communicate and work effectively with others is just as important as the ability to think. These skills, developed and practiced under the guise of projects and assignments, will have a much more overt impact on the lives of our students as they use them to shape the future.

RoboTerra, Inc.robotics