Education is changing, partly because the society in which it is framed does as well and because the job market demands a different education system. Precisely, because it is complex to direct education when concepts become obsolete almost immediately, experts advise moving it towards the development of creativity and critical thinking, among other values.
Robotics is fun but also important in the learning process
Children are born as potential scientists, with a high curiosity about the world around them. However, they end up abandoning this future possibility for others, perhaps more conventional. In most countries, the educational environment is based on memorization instead of critical thinking, something that eliminates part of that innate curiosity.
Creative problem solving or thinking outside the box are methods not largely contemplated within education as of yet, deeming less important subjects belonging to liberal arts or derivative. More often than not, classes are boring monologues and the topics to memorize are too extensive to delve into. As a consequence of this, several students lose interest and are not motivated.
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However, robotics is a playful alternative to consider, since it represents a paradigm shift to classical study. The student, instead of being a mere listener in a class, becomes the protagonist of a construction game – namely Meccano – through which he unleashes his creativity while working on the understanding of this technology.
We have known for a long time that fun is a key factor in the educational process and that gamification helps to learn while students play. Why don’t we organize fun robot classes?
Robotics as preparation for the future
Robotics has also been shown to be very useful as a tool for science and engineering education.
When a student tries to drive his robot to run across a table, he needs to intuitively understand concepts such as speed and trajectory (physics) as well as torque and power (mechanics) for his robot to advance, or how to make it move and even train it not to fall off when it gets to the extreme of the table (programming).
Although robotics is framed within the classic model of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers, it goes far beyond technical careers, also touching on the motor and cognitive skills, psychology and biology, when assembling a motorized toy.
These skills are relegated to the background in conventional classrooms, where the student is sitting motionless, without interacting with the environment beyond physical education.
Logic, abstraction, reasoning, problem-solving
When we think of a machine, most of us imagine a more or less complex casing with wheels or gears- a waste collection truck, an industrial press or a lifting platform- but the word robot gives us that human-like sensation of a being which is very similar to us, moving around and probably experiencing emotions (i.e. C3PO, Number 5, NS-5, Wall-E).
We put a lot of focus on its physical form because it is the most palpable. However, when a robot stops at the edge of a table, it is because someone has programmed it with a function that prevents it from launching into a vacuum, a function that probably arose from previous versions with fatal outcomes.
Robotics fosters the imagination of hypothetical futures, reasoning, logic, among other factors, which helps to cope with problem-solving and the way we deal with them. With each new advance, the student’s self-esteem improves, and it is he who prepares himself in order to demonstrate his own abilities and overcome frustration.
Robotics enables collaborative environments
Far from focusing on the individual, the educational robotics environment encourages collaboration and participatory environments thanks to subjects that make up any related activity.
Not all students are equally good at building a model, nor will they all stand out by programming their movement, but from the synergy of different skills based on the capacities of each child, work teams emerge and they must learn to overcome challenges together, which will turn out to be a critical life lesson down the road.
Philosophy, ethics and critical thinking
Robotics can be framed within the teaching of philosophy, morals, and ethics, and especially within critical thinking. Any student, no matter how young he is, is capable of understanding that both the physical construction of the robot and its programming have come from somewhere, and that place is the imagination and capabilities of its creators.
They are also able to understand that the robot poses new problems and dilemmas, from the very basic, i.e who will take care of recharging its battery? to the most advanced, i.e why does my robot deserve the last wheel in the wheel drawer? Each new situation generates a framework for debate that, on many occasions, does not require a technical solution, but rather an ethical and social commitment, a pact between workgroups and a joint solution based on the interests of all students. Something that our society requires almost urgently.
Robotics is a magnificent thread running through dozens of skills that future generations will need in their daily lives, both for their future professions and their own leisure, in the same way, that our current leisure requires a minimum of digital knowledge.