‘Do-it-yourself’ robotics

Ricky Ye, DFRobot’s CEO, explains the necessity of robotics in education and provides insight into the benefits of, and useful tips for, sharing the foundations of robotics with primary students

As a society that is increasingly reliant upon robotics, the STEM field – science, technology, engineering and maths – is not only one of the fastest-growing professional and economic sectors, but is now an indispensable part of the education curriculum. Students across the UK need technological and scientific literacy to manage the challenges of the future, however, traditionally complex concepts can prove challenging for teachers and students alike.

The proliferation of robotics

When asked to think of robotics, many people conjure images of highly sophisticated, other-worldly artificial intelligence that is reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. This, however, is far from reality. In 2018, robotics has infiltrated everyday life in a variety of ways, and thanks to a shift from industrial to consumer and office applications, the global robotics market is set for unprecedented growth. This year alone has witnessed the world’s first robot citizen, NASA’s underwater transformer, and the rise of robot farmers, to name a few.

Robots traditionally streamlined factory assembly lines to increase efficiency and improve worker safety but today, the average person will interact with some form of robotics on a daily basis. Initially developed for specialised markets, such as space exploration, surgical innovations and crime fighting, the robotics evolution has seen a new branch of robotics tailored to the mass-market. When people use a self-service checkout at the supermarket, or buy a snack from a vending machine, they are interacting with robots. Similarly, many homes are now robot-savvy thanks to cleaning appliances and integrations with popular artificial intelligence applications, Google Home and Alexa.

What this means for the future

Leading the way for innovation and becoming increasingly prevalent in everyday life, it is necessary to integrate robotics into early learning and primary school, in order to adequately prepare the next generation for the future. Additionally, many teachers have found that including STEM subjects into the earlier years of education motivates students and increases their general aptitude for learning and knowledge-retention, but also improves collaboration and teamwork.

The future belongs to the tech-savvy and ‘digital natives’. Subsequently, it has become compulsory to include skills like coding and robotics in educational institutions, particularly considering recent studies that show the UK robotics skills gap is set to continue, as the tech sector outstrips student enrolments.

In short, understanding robotics is essential in preparing the younger generation for a tech-rich future.

Teaching the next generation

Fortunately, schools and educators are heeding the call, with robotics being taught in primary classrooms around the world, providing countless benefits including logical thinking, dexterity, and curiosity. Introducing this skill set at primary school delivers the educational foundation of robotics at an age when students’ minds are incredibly malleable and have the agility to develop new skill sets with ease, but knowing the best teaching methods has historically been a challenge.

A wealth of research has found that students learn most effectively when provided with the opportunity to engage with practical applications, and DIY robotics bridges this gap between latent and active learning.

It is reminiscent of Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Providing a hands-on approach also reduces the intimidation many teachers face when confronted with STEM curriculum as it simplifies technical jargon into digestible concepts.

With a curriculum focused on STEM learning, the focus on software programs in classrooms is undeniable, however, hardware, like DIY robotics kits, is an approach through which students can be hands-on and embrace robotics in a technologically immersive environment. Subsequently, introducing DIY robotics into the classroom allows educators to lay a solid foundation, through a pedagogical rather than technical approach, and use STEM education resources to foster a fun and engaging learning environment.

Ricky Ye

Introducing students to these kinds of DIY robotics kits that are designed with young pupils in mind, provides students with the opportunity to use modularised electronic building blocks (the foundation of robotics) to physically program inventions and deliver an instant understanding of the logic flow. These STEM resources are designed with beginners in mind and subsequently focus on providing a basic understanding of coding and electronics that allows students to easily transfer their ideas into DIY digital games, interactive projects, and more complex robotics including light dimmers, walking robots, Lego machines, and plant monitors. DIY robotics is also easily scalable, allowing students to advance their creativity and innovations as they become more familiar with the technology.

Engaging students at primary school with hands-on robotics ensures educators are setting students up to succeed in an increasingly digital and robotic-centred world. Adopting DIY robotics hardware also ensures that those who may otherwise not participate, are engaged with STEM subjects in a creative manner. Delivered in an effective, hands-on way, robotics is, at its core, much more beneficial for students, than its obvious practical skill set. Teaching robotics provides students with an introduction to programming, increases creativity, teaches students how to overcome obstacles, promotes inclusivity, and prepares them for the future, and laying the foundations at the primary school level allows for ease of understanding and greater success as students progress through secondary school, higher education and the workforce.

For more information about DIY robotics, visit: dfrobot.com/product