Robotics brings programming, technological literacy to your homeschool curriculum

Robotics brings programming, technological literacy to your homeschool curriculum

     We live in the Information Age, a time where everything is plugged in, online, and in sync. It can be difficult for a homeschooling parent to keep courses current with the times, especially when it is so easy to feel left behind with all the new gadgets and devices on the market. But for parents searching for a way to introduce their students to technology, robotics is the best option. Technological literacy has never been more important to our daily lives. Robotics is an engaging way to introduce kids to electronics and coding. Learning to code is a critical-thinking skill that has value beyond the computer.

 

     Our society demands a certain level of technological competence for a citizen to function fully. For example, job applications, voting registration, and shopping are all done online now. In addition to these basic activities, there are numerous jobs regarding information technology services, design, software engineering, etc. that all demand workers who know how to use computers. In other words, being able to utilize technology is important for understanding how our modern world works and for getting a job in a wide range of fields. It is our duty as teachers and parents to prepare our children for this digital world.

Robotics doesn’t have to be too difficult or complex for a homeschool setting.

Robotics doesn’t have to be too difficult or complex for a homeschool setting.

     Robotics is a fun, effective way to get kids learning about technology. It’s difficult to begin engaging with the topic of technology because go-to virtual resources like Google and Wikipedia can overwhelm even the most intelligent individuals with the sheer volume of information they offer. Robotics can provide that critical first step. Compared to the anxiety-inducing barrage of knowledge to be found online, having a physical device in your hands is both reassuring and exciting. Constructing a robot is a lesson in its own right. Students have to learn how to use tools and follow instructions. The feeling of accomplishment after completing a build encourages them to attempt more complex, creative, and innovative projects. For a homeschool student, that creative, constructive outlet can do wonders to stimulate the mind.

     Many would say English is the lingua franca (or perhaps Spanish, Mandarin, or French depending on where you are in the world), but the true universal language is code. All the electronics we use depend on code to some extent. Learning even the basics behind coding opens many doors in the professional world, and draws back the curtains on some of the mysteries of how our software functions. The most rewarding step in robotics comes after the student gets comfortable with the components, parts, wires, and tools and can begin implementing code into his or her builds. These building blocks are only the sum of their parts without the introduction of code from a computer. Coding is intimidating for students and teachers alike; it truly is a whole new language that must be studied, practiced, and learned. But it is also the breath of life that elevates your robot from a glorified paperweight to an interesting, fun device.

     Using an interface between your computer and a circuit board attached to your robot, your student can give instructions to, collect information from, and interact with the device that he or she built. The code can be simple: when you push a button on the robot’s chest, a LED lights up on its head. It can be far more complex as well, utilizing servo motors, sensors of various kinds, and a whole host of components to make intricate movements and behaviors possible. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to the capabilities of your creation. Writing code takes practice, critical thinking skills, and far more creativity than is commonly revealed. This is the biggest leap from simple construction into true computer science and robotics study; as such, the best products will have some kind of software or resources to help teach your student how to code.

     That being said, your student doesn’t have to become a computer whiz overnight. The very fact that she can use a computer to accomplish a task other than watching videos or playing music will alter the way she thinks about electronics. She will begin to see robots as much more than clumsy, boxy sci-fi creatures. She will learn that computers and electronics are much more than toys. While they are quite fun, there is also a wide range of tasks and functions we can carry out by using electronics. More than any line of code or robot build, this understanding- that computers are tools and not just toys- is the fundamental lesson that will propel your student through the technological world she will inherit.  

If your student already has a computer, isn’t it time she learned how to use it? Being able to do just that is the whole purpose of learning to code.

If your student already has a computer, isn’t it time she learned how to use it? Being able to do just that is the whole purpose of learning to code.

 

     Robotics fit extremely well into a homeschool setting. Many packages include software that walks students along, providing some pre-planned builds. This provides structure, fitting well into a technology curriculum. These challenge-based projects are engaging and fun, but often build incrementally on knowledge from previous challenges. For example, if you want to teach about electricity, your student can spend part of the unit discovering how to wire a robot correctly, and the next part wiring a robot on their own. These types of interconnected lessons are often laid out by the company selling the kit, but the best way to engage your student is to encourage them to ask questions and explore their interests. As a homeschool teacher, you will have plenty of time and ability to engage these questions. The structure is there for effective teaching, but the door is left wide open for independent learning.

     Your homeschool curriculum will have to include technology of some kind. Our world demands a baseline level of literacy. But technology is useful beyond surfing the net, checking emails, and updating social media. It is one of the driving forces in our society, always growing and developing. The technologies your kids use now will likely be outdated by the time they are adults, but that doesn’t change the fact that they will be far better off with some knowledge of how to think, build, design, and use technology to benefit themselves and the world. Years from now, they will still remember the robot they build by hand. They will have the critical thinking skills developed from writing code. Most importantly, they will have the perspective of a technologically literate individual, and that will take them far.