By Aaron Maurer
As teachers, we’re well aware that STEM education is essential in preparing students for today’s world of non-stop innovation.
In my 13 years of teaching I’ve seen many curriculum fads come and go, but the use of robotics in the classroom has proven to be a consistent and surefire way to teach students the STEM skills needed to prepare them for the future job market. I’ve seen firsthand how it teaches students 21st-century skills including coding, engineering and the scientific method in a fun and engaging way.
However, there are so many other incredible things that I’ve watched my students learn in addition to STEM curriculum. Here are the top five unexpected benefits I’ve seen in students who use robotics in the classroom:
1. Robotics can be a launching pad for students to realize their passions.
By going through the process of building a robot in the classroom, students explore many different learning pathways. It’s amazing to watch students’ passions grow in subjects that they never knew they would love.
Some of my students have cultivated an interest in 3D printing and coding, and have even gone as far as to take apart household appliances because they have a new-found interest in mechanics. You can watch these students build their own learning pathways because robotics offers them an open platform where they can decide where to go with their experimentations. For teachers, a robotics curriculum naturally allows us to take an individualized approach to each student’s learning, helping to nurture their passions even further.
2. A strong robotics curriculum can create leaders.
When students interact with robots in the classroom and make them perform various motions and tasks, your students’ different strengths will start to shine.
When assembling robots in teams, some students are great at speaking and can verbally bring ideas to life. On the flipside, there are students who may not be as vocal but they lead behind the scenes: they code, perform technical tasks and/or makes sure the team stays on task. Through the exercise of putting the robot together and making it move, these two types of students—both leaders in their own right—learn to communicate as a team and express their ideas to craft the best end result. The ability to come together as different types of leaders, communicate with each other and utilize their personal strengths will be essential throughout these students’ lives, no matter if they become an artist, a business executive or an engineer.
3. Robotics can teach students how to communicate across different technology platforms.
Social media has become a part of our everyday lives and using it is as innate for students today as using the telephone was when I was a teenager. There are plenty of good things about social media — but also many potential dangers and things that you want your students to avoid.
My classroom has a five-foot robot named Twitch. Twitch has his own Twitter account (@BMS_Theory) that the students update every day with what Twitch is doing or what we’re working on in class. As much as robotics teaches students how to code and flex their math and science muscles, it can also help show them how to navigate sending a tweet, how to write a blog post or respond when a company says, “we want you to test our product.”
Through this extension of robotics, my students are learning how to communicate across different technology platforms, understand the audience of these different platforms and gain experience crafting effective messages for the various audiences—a crucial skill that we all need to be familiar with, no matter what career path we follow.
4. Robotics can lead to community involvement.
I’ve personally seen the numerous benefits of student community involvement, including increased attendance, higher grades, a sense of greater security, fewer behavioral problems and an increase in positive attitudes about school and homework. However, I’ve also witnessed youth struggle to find positive ways to get involved with their communities and don’t know where to look for resources on how to get started.
Teaching robotics in the classroom can create a sense of community within the classroom that expands to the outside community in which you live. I’ve had students go out and present their robots at our local art museum and various technology fairs. It’s their show and their product, so the students naturally take ownership and pride over what is presented.
Through opportunities like these, students begin seeing robotics as more than a project for a grade but rather as a tool that can inspire others. Nine times out of ten, seasoned professionals build the robots they see on TV, and getting started can certainly feel intimidating. But when you have young students teaching others how to build robots, many will think to themselves, “I can do that.” The next thing you know, another mind is interested in STEM!
5. Robotics teaches essential teamwork skills.
The STEM skills that robotics teach are great for inspiring tomorrow’s engineers. However, I realize that not all of my students are going to work for NASA or even work in a science and math-related field. Yet some of the teamwork skills they learn through robotics are ones they will use for the rest of their life.
When students work in groups on a project with a robot they quickly see that technical skills, such as coding, are very important. However, their robot won’t move if they don’t know how to collaborate with others and communicate their ideas. Through robotics in the classroom, students learn how to express themselves and listen and relate to others— honing valuable life skills.
STEM lessons are extremely important for students as they prepare to enter the 21st-century workforce. Through robotics, students can learn more than just how to code. They can learn skills in leadership, community involvement, communicating across different technology platforms, finding their passions, and teamwork, which will position them for success well beyond their school years. As I continue my education journey, I’m excited to see the surprise benefits that teaching robotics in the classroom will uncover next!
Aaron Maurer is an Instructional Coach at Bettendorf Middle School and LEGO Education Ambassador Program (LEAP) teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @coffeechugbooks