As technology has progressed, the accessibility of robotics to the layperson has also improved. Twenty years ago, robotics kits for kids were limited to simple structures and motors. Now they are sophisticated enough to employ a multitude of sensors and motors as well as interface with a desktop computer to allow for robust programming experiences, all at a cost that makes them accessible to the classroom. What are the virtues of robotics kits, and how can they be used in the classroom?
Hands-On Learning & Engagement
Kids of all ages enjoy hands-on construction activities, so that aspect of robotics is accessible across the board; further, abilities in this area vary widely within an age group, which allows individuals to achieve mastery and demonstrate competence. Youth love a chance to show their peers (or teachers!) what they’ve learned and what they can do, and the many different subsystems involved (structure, motion, sensors, programming, manipulation, etc.) allows more opportunities for them to find something that suits their particular interests.
Problem Solving & Training for Future Careers
Problem solving strategies are obviously crucial, as it is difficult to construct a working robot unless the participants have a grasp of what it is that they are supposed to do and how they can go about accomplishing it. The design process used by engineers begins with understanding the capabilities and limitations of their tools and equipment, researching and understanding the problem at hand, conceptualizing a solution to that problem, constructing that solution, testing it to see how well it works, and revising their solution based on its performance. These steps are by no means restricted to engineering. They form the basis for sound problem solving across the board and can be transferred into any number of contexts.
The addition of a computer programming component allows for deeper investigations into issues such as remote sensing, control, and autonomous functioning. Indeed, many of the issues encountered when constructing and building a robot can promote a better appreciation for what Nature achieves in smaller, lighter packages. After all, the “smartest" computers can still be beaten by insects when it comes to robust sensory recognition, navigation, adaptation to changing environmental conditions, and “graceful" degradation in the face of incomplete sensory information or physical damage.
Studying robotics in the classroom has the potential to make computer programming a less abstract endeavor, engage youth who would otherwise not be interested in technology or engineering, and bring high-technology down to the practical, everyday level.