robot with tablet controller

by Josephine Elliott | Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

The Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the STEM Education Laboratory in FAU College of Education hosted Robotics Day on Nov. 8, 2023 from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. in Heritage Hall, Student Union on the Davie Campus for pre-service and current teachers within COE programs, students from outside of the College and from Broward College to complement online classes.

Thirty-three elementary and secondary education majors, graduate students, faculty and staff attended Robotics Day in person, and another 36 joined via live streaming to explore educational robots that use block programming, which provides an easy entry into the robotics field for teachers who have not learned how to code. The on-campus students were able to interact and use the robots to solve challenges or to design their own robots. During the livestream event, volunteers demonstrated the use of robots.

Belinda Beckford and Kelly Thomas, both from Broward County Public Schools, shared how to use the educational robots in the classroom and how to become a Robotics Certified Teacher in Broward County. Robots highlighted at this event included Mini Sphero (a remote-controlled drone), Little Bits (circuitry that results in a robot), Educational Legos (create, design, and implement a robot), Dash (program to accomplish a challenge), Vex (higher level programming great for middle school and higher students) and various types of drones.

“Robotic Day is a fun way to expose future and current teachers to educational robots they can use in their classroom and encourage interest in learning more about the robots,” stated Victoria Brown, Ed.D., CI Professor, who teaches instructional technology. “The planning team appreciates Broward County School District who allowed their robotic experts and teachers time away from their duties and classrooms to support the event.”

Organized by Brown, and David Devraj Kumar, Ed.D., CI Professor of Science Education, the event was made possible with the support of the Broward Campus and Broward Technology Service teams, as well as Jillian Powers, Ph.D., and Ann Musgrove, Ed.D., both CI Associate Professors, who teach instructional technology and were members of the planning team. Overall, 15 staff members and 15 volunteers, including current and former graduate and doctoral students assisted with this project.

Robotics integrates many fields such as mechanical engineering, computer science, and electrical engineering to design, construct, and operate machines to do specific tasks, Brown noted. Educational robots make learning about these fields fun and engaging with predesigned lesson plans and activities. For example, educational robots for the younger students use block programming which has visual cues that guide the students to what procedures the blocks of code do; thereby, allowing the students to tell the robots what to do by dropping and dragging the code.

Robots are also a great way to generate interest in learning how to code, use computation and logical thinking skills, and introduce students to the invention cycle, according to Brown. Coding a robot requires students to learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity which are all skills needed in the workplace. Students can quickly transfer from following instructions to make something with their robot pieces to creating problems the students themselves generate. At the same time, students are developing resilience as they try out designs and see how they can improve them. Students can continue to create designs when their first attempts fail until the robot succeeds!

Teachers frequently use robotics for cross-curricular activities such as: students programing the robots to tell stories, author stories that have a challenge requiring students to build a robot, and navigate timelines or number lines to teach concepts in any subject areas, Brown explained. In addition, robots can engage creative skills in art and music. For example, students can use their artistic talents to design obstacle courses for the robots or program the robot to sing a song written by the students. A creative teacher can use robots to support learning any instructional objective.

Robots have an appeal across any age group from preschool children to college students, as well as those with disabilities or English language learners. As with other technology tools, children with disabilities interact with robots and their peers through the technology, Brown expounded. Some students with disabilities excel in coding and the logic required to create solutions because the thought processes used are highly structured. The robots are hands-on which intrigues students that need concrete experiences to learn complex concepts. These students also benefit from group interaction as they collaborate on how to solve problems with robots. As for students learning the English language, they benefit from the universal language of coding and the visual cues provided in block programming. Collaborative experiences allow for the natural flow of conversation and interaction to expand their vocabulary and understanding of the language.