Bringing Robotics to the Curriculum

A lot has been going on since my arrival at Yokohama International School in August. As the newly appointed Head of Department for MYP Technology (soon to be Design) I’ve been, naturally, thinking a lot about how to grow the department in ways that can take advantage of the current trends in education and in technology. The three most obvious areas are 3D printing, coding and robotics.

I’m currently running units with my Grade 9 and Grade 10 classes focus on the first two areas. (More details to come, I promise!) We also were lucky enough to have the budget to purchase to Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits (starter and expansion kits) and I have been helping to run an after-school activity for middle school students focused on exploring the possibilities. It currently consists of 7 Grade 6 boys and 2 Grade 9 boys who are acting as student leaders and mentors (since they have the most robotics experience on campus I think!). We’re hoping to enter at least one YIS team in the local Robosumo Friendly taking place in the spring!

This past weekend I was able to attend an EARCOS Weekend Workshop at Taipei American School focused on robotics in the curriculum. For those who don’t know, TAS has an amazing robotics program throughout their K12 curriculum that they have been building over the past 7 years or so. Leanne Rainbow, who was a Learning2Leader in October focused on robotics, and Andrew Vicars did a great job of explaining the history of their program and sharing some strategies when thinking about how to start a robotics program in your school. They also gave us big chunk of play time where I got to go hands-on with the older NXTs and some of the more advanced/engineering-heavy VEX machines. While we didn’t get to spend too much time building, we did get an introduction to RobotC (of course, it’s only available on Windows and we are a Mac school; apparently PROS can be used to program VEX in a Mac environment.) and the process that students go through in order to prepare for an in-class tournament.

I’m really excited to think about how we could be bringing robotics into our curriculum. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered though.For example:

  • How many kits will I need in order to run this successfully in one grade next year? Does each student need their own kit?  Can they work in pairs to design and build, and then write the program individually? How will this fit in with the MYP Design curriculum?
  • How do we bring this into the curriculum and keep the activity going strong?
  • We’re focused on the EV3 for now. How long until we start moving into the VEX kits for the older students?
  • How do we bring this down into the elementary school? What can we do to provide some sort of continuity in the program? How far down can we go? (For example, I know some KG teachers are using Beebots already but is anybody else?) Who is going to support robotics in the ES and how does it fit into PYP Units of Inquiry?
  • Where are we going to find the physical space to do all/any of this???

None of these questions are deal breakers, of course, and I’m really excited to see where this journey takes our students and our school. Have you implemented a robotic program in your school, either as part of the curriculum or as an activity? Any suggestions?

Image credit: All images by me. Feel free to use these and more under a CC license.

7 thoughts on “Bringing Robotics to the Curriculum

  • March 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm
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    We’ve done sessions with Robotics using NXT down to Grade 4 and would easily say that could go lower to Grade 2 if there is sufficient time and resources. Looking forward to hear more about how this goes for you.
    -Jason

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  • March 26, 2014 at 6:38 am
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    At Munich International School, all of our students do an NXT unit in G6 and G7 MYP technology classes. The students share kits and seem to really love the lessons. They do it for an after school activity and compete a lot in Germany as well all overseas. If we could get more kits, I’m sure we would have more classes doing it.

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  • March 26, 2014 at 9:02 am
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    @Mitch Norris Thanks for sharing. Can you tell me more about the unit that you do? Are the students building their own robot and programming, or just programming a base robot with a few add-on sensors? Also, how big are your groups and how do you divide up the responsibilities? Does everybody write their own programs, or do the collaborate on making a single set of programs for the group?

    Sorry to bombard you with more questions!

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  • March 26, 2014 at 9:04 am
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    @Jason Thanks for your comment Jason. We’re still in the ‘after school club’ stage but I am looking hard into bringing this into my G9 curriculum next year. I’d love to hear if you have any resources that you think would be good for getting students started with the programming side. Cheers!

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  • May 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm
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    Hi Clint,

    Congratulations on your new role as Design department head. As you mentioned I think Taipei American School currently has the most impressive robotics program. Andrew Vicars and I communicated about how robotics courses many times while completing the COETAIL program run by Jeff Utech.

    For 3 years now I have been using Tetrix (http://www.pitsco.com/Robotics/TETRIX) robotics components with Mindstorms NXT kits and the RobotC programming language to teach 9th/10th grade high school robotics courses. I use the Mindstorms Tetrix Curriculum from RoboMatter (http://www.education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/previews/robot_c_products/teaching_rc_tetrix_preview/) as a basis for the course as most of my students have never programmed before. I struggle to meet the MYP design course requirements as it is difficult to teach the technical programming and building skills and yet still assess the students twice on each design criteria by completing 2 projects in a semester course.I also find it difficult to create a design project in robotics that requires a real client. Do you have any ideas on that?

    I also teach a 7th/8th grade intro to robotics course using the Mindstorms NXT kits and the Robotics Engineering Curriculum from RobotMatter as a base (http://www.hsedallas.org/Robotics/).

    After being visited by an IB accreditation team this year we have been told we can no longer have mixed level design courses so I am making the high school course a level 5 course and the middle school course a level 3 course. The school is also purchasing 10 EV3 kits to form a new level 4 course. I am debating wether to use the EV3 version of the NXT-G software or use Java as the programming language for the course. I find that pairing students up on one robot works fine as usually they can focus on doing the building or the programming. I am ordering the the EV3 Design Engineering Projects curriculum(https://shop.education.lego.com/legoed/education/LE+US/EV3+Design+Engineering+Projects/5004121&isSimpleSearch=false) as a basis for what I do in the class but I might also use materials from the EV3 Space Activity pack(https://shop.education.lego.com/legoed/education/LE+US/EV3+Design+Engineering+Projects/5004121&isSimpleSearch=false)

    I also coach both a middle school FIRST Lego League robotics team and and a high school FIRST Tech Challenge team and ran the Eastern European FIRST Tech Challenge tournament for four years in a row. Next year the International School of Prague will be hosting the competition so I can focus on just being a coach when at next year’s tournament.

    I am also considering leaving AISB in the near future so if Yokohama ever needs a another experienced robotics teacher who is also qualified to teach IB Diploma, MYP and AP math please keep me in mind when talking to your director about openings.

    Sincerely,
    Alexander Dean Hester
    American International School of Bucharest

    Reply
    • May 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm
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      Hi Alexander,

      Thanks for your comment! It sounds like you are doing some great things in Bucharest! Is Brian Roach still there as the principal? We worked together for a number of year in Tanzania. (I love the small world nature of international schools!)

      Thanks for all the great links you have provided. It will take me some time to get through them all but it looks like there is a treasure trove of information there!

      I am just really starting to think about how I can integrate robotics into our curriculum on a practical level. My initial thought is 10 kits for 20 students on a rotating basis. Since I have 3 sections of Grade 9, each will have a “trimester” of robotics. This means I will be teaching it throughout the year and can make minor iterations to the unit as I go instead of having to wait another year to try my new ideas.

      At my workshop at TAS, I spoke with others about a minefield-type activity. I’m currently thinking about having the groups build a base robot and learn how to do some basic programming together, then ask each individual to design some add-on components, based on what they want their robot to do. These add-ons would include the different sensors so each student would need to devise their own program to take advantage of those sensors. It’s not complete in my head yet but that is what I’m currently thinking! As for the context, I’m wondering if I could change from the minefield idea to one related to Fukushima and radiation cleanup/disposal. This could be a way of highlighting one of the benefits of robotics as well as give them the sense of a real client.

      Reply
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