Joe Dixon is Chief Learning Officer of Teq, a professional development company for teachers that aims to “champion the continued evolution of the modern classroom.” Lately that means getting lots of robots into the hands of schoolkids.
Specifically, Teq is bring the NAO robot, a small humanoid from Aldebaran Robotics, into the classroom for educational applications. The bot is already in widespread use as a development platform for roboticists, and Teq leads weeklong school programs geared for students of all ages in getting the robot to do interesting things.
“NAO represents the ability to bring error back into the classroom,” said Dixon. “In the 1930s, educational reformer John Dewey said, ‘Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.’ Robots make it cool to make mistakes again.”
Teq’s program has students using the NAO robot’s various sensors for navigation, face and voice recognition, and pre-programming specific movements. Despite having sensors and electronics that are about as sophisticated as you can get right now, Dixon says it’s “amazingly simple at its base level.”
Students are not writing lines and lines of intimidating computer code, but are instead building programs from a “block” language. This enables them to make the robot do useful things without the students’ needing to learn super-specific computer syntax. These prewritten “blocks” can be modified and arranged so that NAO can dance, participate in a class’ story time, and even help kids with autism interact with other people. But above all, learning elementary robotics teaches kids to think in terms of order and process.
“The robots provide instant feedback and the students don’t get upset when something goes wrong, but they instead say, ‘What happened?’ This gives them the opportunity to make hundreds of mistakes in minutes,” Dixon said.
Younger children are encouraged to think about what they’d like their robots to do. They often answer that it should make their bed or help their mums around the house.
Older kids will interact with the robots more directly, feeding it prewritten blocks of code to get it to do things.
Regardless of age, kids seem to love their robots.
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