Today, more and more people in the know believe robots for kids aren’t just fun, but a great learning tool too.
Whether it be by opening up STEM subjects, the scientific method of inquiry and problem-solving; or – like the best kinds of screen-less, hands-on learning – by encouraging collaboration and nurturing creativity.
In this, the latest in an ongoing series of in-depth blog posts, we tell the story of how young kids learn with robots.
1․ Why kids like Robots?
Robots have been sparking kids’ imaginations with the help of cinema, children’s authors and cartoonists for generations. Think of Star Wars’ R2D2 and more recently plucky BB-8. Ted Hughes’ modern fairy tale, The Iron Man, has become a set text at many schools for young learners.
‘Children fall in love with robots because of the bots’ ambiguous nature between animate and inanimate, relative autonomy, responsive yet with a mind of their own, and singular ‘personality’’, says Edith Ackermann, an honorary professor of developmental psychology at the University of Aix-Marseille in France and a visiting scientist at MIT’s Design Lab. ‘Bots have a way of being what is alien and surprising yet, at the same time, familiar enough to be recognisable, and endearing enough to be “befriended”.’
Ackerman’s insight comes from a 2012 study from international research agency Latitude, which asked children around the world: ‘What would happen if robots were a part of your everyday life – at school and beyond?’ The answers were overwhelmingly positive.
2․ The Benefits of Learning with Robots
If we were just a toy company, the fun that kids get from playing with robots would be an end in itself. But we’re also an education company, so what are the educational benefits that toying with robots can bring kids? Here are five big ones.
a) Robots bring out kids creativity
It almost sounds counter-intuitive: machines reliant on logical thinking and mathematical principles are also great creative companions. But of course that’s exactly what they become.
‘Young children can become engineers by exploring gears, levers, motors, sensors, and programming loops,’ writes Professor Marina U. Bers in a report for Tufts College in the US. ‘But they can become storytellers by creating their own constructions that move in response to their environment.’
b) Robots have Montessori’s ‘hands-on learning’ designed into them
Many of you will know that we’re big champions of Maria Montessori. It wouldn’t be going too far to say that her kinaesthetic learning principles influence everything we do and make. Robotics builds on this tradition by encouraging kids to learn by doing – they have to create, inquire and play in order to test their own knowledge and the boundaries of what’s possible for their mechanical friend.
Through trial and improvement, their own free and independent thinking, and also collaborating and sharing ideas with the kids around them, children educate themselves and each other through programming robots.
c) Robots make computational thinking simple
You’ll already know that, like so many world-leading organisations, policy makers and entrepreneurs, we think teaching kids computational thinking is more important than ever. In the last few years various countries, including the US and the UK, have put their weight behind new computer curriculums to help create a new generation of Mark Zuckerbergs.
One of the big problems with computational thinking is that it’s very, very abstract. That means that even teaching kids the fundamentals – algorithms, the queue, recursions and debugging – without a physical interface is near impossible.
Alongside teaching children the need for precise instructions, says Leon Stirling, Professor Emeritus of Swinburne University of Technology: ‘By having to control a physical robot and seeing what goes wrong, students learn what robots can and can’t do.’
3․ Educational Robots
With Logo, the child writes commands for movement to produce line graphics, either on screen or in the real world, with a small robot – a turtle armed with a pen. With LOGO Turtle, for the first time, kids could play and learn complex programming by focusing on a screenless, creative outcome via a robot.
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