Serif in Education

Robots in the classroom

Ok – so we’re not quite living like the Jetsons. And our cars aren’t quite transformers. We don’t all have a pet hologram and we’re not surrounded by elaborate robotic contraptions. But with over one million household robots – and a further 1.1 million industrial robots – operating worldwide today, we might definitely be on our way to a world just like that.

Like computers, robots may soon become a key part of our everyday lives, and more and more jobs are opening up in robotics companies. In order to prepare children for the engineering industry, schools are enabling children to develop and communicate design ideas using annotated sketches, detailed plans, 3-D and mathematical modelling, oral and digital presentations and computer-based tools in Design and Technology and Computing lessons.

Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. Traditionally, a robotics lesson might have been taught in Maths or Science, however nowadays it is also covered by Design and Technology and Computing.

Robotics is a great subject to capture the imagination of both children and adults. Robots are a frequent feature of popular culture – think of the Stepford Wives, Terminator, R2D2, i-Robot, and the CBeebies show Little Robots. Everyone can relate to robots, which is especially good for children who aren’t particularly interested in science or technology.  It makes things fun! Every day we hear news stories of new developments in the field of robotics, and children’s toys are becoming increasingly sophisticated. As adults we dream of robots doing our everyday chores… but the reality is, there are already bots out there doing just that! They just haven’t fully commercialized them.

Perhaps the best thing about the field of robotics is that, because it is so fast-developing and wide-ranging, there is a huge amount of creative freedom. Currently, people are free to develop whatever they want, in whatever way they want and looking however they want! This provides a fantastic platform for children to get really creative and think up some really wacky ideas.

Robotics is also cross-curricular, and all inclusive. Children can go as far as they want with it. They can learn about programming, science, ethics, engineering, as well as key skills like persistence and problem-solving. There are some great real-life examples of robotics that teachers can relate to too – with some great videos on YouTube. The International Robot Exhibition website has a great video from its last show: http://www.nikkan.co.jp/eve/irex/english/.

So how can we can get creative with robotics in the classroom? If we remove the actual ‘building’ part – so solely focusing on the design ideas – there is no limit to where children can go. Here are some questions for children to consider:

What type of robot would you design?
What would be its primary purpose? (to help with homework, to act as a pet companion, save the planet etc)
Will it move / fly / walk / jump / hop?
What will it look like?
How big will it be?
Will it talk?
Will it need programming? How will it receive instructions?
Will it be able to see and hear?
Will it need to be charged?

Using DrawPlus, children could start sketching their ideas. They could go on a ‘robotics’ hunt for machines that help our daily lives, taking photographs and importing them into PhotoPlus to make a collage, or use them for other digital projects. In WebPlus, these photos can be utilised to make a website for their new invention. An idea for teachers is to make use of a small programmable robot in the classroom, to inspire pupils. A pet robot – now how cool would that be!