Robotics’ place in STEM learning

Sponsored: Christopher Cederskog, Managing Director Europe of Wonder Workshop, discusses how robotics enhances STEM learning

How do you make education work? How do you turn the experience of lessons from endurance to engagement? How do you make learning fun?

You animate it.

That is part of the role that robotics plays in STEM.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths have become the core of the British – and global – education system. The skills and knowledge imparted in each field are already among the most prized in industry, and we’re moving towards a time when many of them aren’t just going to be valued, but expected. Technology is now used everywhere, openly. Engineering, Science and Maths, equally so, it’s just that their presences aren’t always as obvious. Helping this generation of children to comprehend both their substance and their worth is essential to their future success. And, in my view, robotics can facilitate a smoother learning experience.

Why robotics?

Well, firstly, and most obviously, robotics requires technological knowhow. You can’t programme a robot without using coding and computing skills, so there’s the first ‘in’. Of course, there are other ways to teach these elements, but even the greatest enthusiast would admit that stringing lines of code has a huge potential to be dull. Seeing those lines of code translated into the physical actions of a robot dancing, however, will spark imagination, demonstrate cause and effect, inspire creativity and can even have a hand in fostering spatial awareness. And, of course, it’s fun, which immediately makes the subject more memorable.

The key point that is often overlooked here though, is that these features aren’t limited to the use of robotics in technology. They can be used to breathe [artificial] life into other subjects – STEM and beyond. 

Aside from the fact that we were looking for ways to make learning the principles of tech an enjoyable experience, Wonder Workshop selected robotics as its learning medium because it teaches a huge number of transferable skills and disciplines. Coding, yes, obviously, but then we have so much more. Communication – through both team work and the technical aspect of transferring code into actions or language that others can understand. Design thinking – through employing creative strategies to resolve problems, which takes us on to problem solving; a skill that can’t be mastered too young. Spatial awareness is acquired through teaching your robot how to best navigate a space. By taking charge of a problem and working out how each of the variables are impacting upon the results they’re aiming for, scientific thinking is engaged. Mathematical reasoning and computational thinking both come into play as students learn to recognise connections, cause and effect and develop evaluative abilities. All of this while having fun.

In essence, robotics bridges the gap between work and play. It literally animates potentially difficult subjects, solidifying understanding through incidental learning and fun. When you add in the fact that robotics are set to play an increasingly prominent role in a wide variety of sectors, from the military to medicine and with Forrester predicting that 16% of today’s jobs will be automated by 2025 – not including robotics in STEM education begins to seem remiss.