This approach involved both professional development for teachers, modelled lessons and opportunities to explore the use of Beebots and Edison robots in primary classes.
Following an initial pilot at St Theresa’s New Lambton, six schools from Denman, Scone, Raymond Terrace, Warner’s Bay, Swansea and Kilaben Bay were chosen to participate in this trial. These schools are willing to share their professional learnings and the student learning outcomes achieved through participation in this project with other Diocesan schools.
Additionally, our primary schools at Stockton, Branxton and Dungog engaged Geoff independently. This followed initial feedback from participating schools.
The aim of the project was to develop confidence in teachers to use coding and computational thinking through the use of robotics in the classroom.
Why were BeeBots and Edisons chosen for trial? BeeBots have long been used as a very engaging learning tool for students in the early years of learning. They are colourful, hardy and have very simple operating mechanisms. This enables students to concentrate more on the learning challenges offered to them. They are also highly affordable.
The Edison robot, designed in Adelaide, has been around for only about 2 years. Whilst they are highly affordable costing from as low as $50 each they are a true robot. They come with inbuilt light, object and sound sensors. They can be programmed using free online software edscratchapp.com, edblocksapp.com, edpyapp.com and edwareapp.com which can be run on any device which has internet access and a powered headphone socket. This makes them suitable for use with students from year 2 to Year 12.
Each school was allocated two or three days with Geoff as well as being supplied with a kit of BeeBots and Edison robots. At the introductory day students worked in pairs with their teachers as co-learners and were introduced to the robots. In some cases, this meant as many as 40 Edison robots all being programmed at the same time in school halls. It demonstrated to teachers that all students could participate regardless of their previous experience or perceived ability to work with coding and robots.
During the second day, different schools engaged Geoff in different ways. In some cases, Geoff worked individually in classrooms, others had year groups together whilst others sat down with Geoff and looked at future teaching programmes to explore opportunities to integrate the use of robots, coding and computational thinking into units of work.
Analysis of the data from the teacher survey so far has been very positive. Teacher confidence grew significantly across the areas of coding and computational thinking. They felt that they could undertake robotics sessions in their classrooms with all of their students no matter the perceived ability of each student. Many teachers found that using the robots was possible across most areas of the curriculum and would like to work with peers and/or Geoff to look at further connections with the syllabus. They indicated that Geoff’s modelling with students and his use of easy to understand explanations significantly increased their confidence to use the robots with their classes. His quick follow up to email requests was appreciated. The introduction during the time of the project of a Scratch based version of the software for the Edison robot was seen as a significant plus for their use in Mathematics and Science. Students self-differentiated their learning.
Perhaps the “best comments” from teachers were that when using the BeeBots or Edisons, “all of their students were fully involved with high level learning” while they tried to solve the challenges given to them.
Teachers believed that the use of the robots was highly beneficial to the children. They indicated that students developed better co-operative learning skills, their initiative and responsibility, their problem solving, precision and creativity whilst developing solutions to challenges given to them. It also allowed them to develop more of a liking towards STEM subjects.
Overall the project has reinforced that the use of affordable robots increased student involvement through hands on work/play with robots. They discovered that by using the robot, which is a machine, that their initial perceived Mathematical solutions were not always successful. External factors like friction affected their results. They needed to experiment like Scientists to discover why it was so! Could they be like an Engineer and redesign their solution to minimise the external factors? And during all of this they were using various computer Technologies to operate and code their robots. Thus in each challenge they were indeed using STEM!