Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Journal 5: Lego robotics: stem sport of the mind

This article meets NETS1-3.
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In this article, Gura describes how to excite students about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by using robotics. Teachers have been using "Lego Robotics" to teach science and math curricula to students in a new and innovative way. Instead of the traditional method of teaching through lectures, homework, and tests, some schools have adopted a project-based approach by using robotics in the classroom. Students get excited about math and science by focusing on building robots to dance, travel down a hallway, or even take measurements. In order to successfully build their robots, students must understand and apply basic math skills, physics, and other curriculum standards. Because students are so engaged in the hands-on activities, the learning comes naturally. In addition, they are exposed to integration of various subjects, such as science, engineering and math. Also, there is a valid connection to the real-world since engineers currently build robots using similar approaches. Robots are being used more and more in our mainstream society for medicine, research, and other fields as well. This means that students are exposed to possible future career paths as well.

How could I use this in my classroom?

I could potentially use robotics to integrate physics, math, and biology in a fun and exciting way. For instance, students might have to design a robot to enter an environment inhospitable for humans and collect temperature readings and soil samples for further analysis. I could connect this to a real-life setting by discussing how robots are currently being used on Mars to explore whether life may have once existed there. Then, the students could pick a local, environmental, restorative project to try their robots out on. For instance, we could volunteer to restore chaparral in Rose Canyon by takin soil samples at measured intervals with our robots to evaluate pH and metal contaminants. There are a myriad of ways robots could be used to engage and excite students as well as integrate several core subjects and apply them to real-life situations.

I don't have access to robots. How can I use this idea to excite and engage students in my classroom?

You don't necessarily have to use robots to engage students with hands-on activities, excite them about real-life problems, and integrate varied curricula. The bigger picture is valuable: use a project-based approach to teach curricula in a new and exciting way. As a future biology teacher, I love the idea of teaching by doing. For instance, I can envision teaching a "Biotechnology" course to high school students where they could learn about biology, using techniques that real scientists use. As an example, students pick a human disease to research. They clone a mutant piece of DNA into a plasmid using restriction enzymes and PCR (polymerase-chain reaction). Then, they tranform the DNA into bacteria, isolate the DNA, and check the DNA to make sure it's correct, using electrophoresis and DNA sequencing. They then can report their findings to the class. There are a myriad of ways teachers can use this project-based approach in the classroom. The advantages to this way of teaching are endless. The biggest advantage, in my opinion, is that students are excited about what they are learning. If they're passionate about what they're learning, the learning happens naturally, and students push themselves harder. This paves the way to creating life-long learners, my ultimate future goal as a teacher.

An example of a class of student-built robots dancing in unison!

Gura, M. (2012, August). Lego robotics: Stem sport of the mind. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/learn/publications/learning-and-leading/issues/Lego_Robotics_STEM_Sport_of_the_Mind.aspx

Links to learn more:
Lego Mindstorms

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