Robotics - A Vexing Question?15/01/2018
NZST recently had the opportunity to attend the 2017 VEX Robotics New Zealand National, and Asia-Pasific Competitions, held at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre. What we saw was impressive.
While we have covered such events in the past, to bring you all the excitement and news, these two events got us thinking about the Nature of Science in the context of robotics.
As addressed in our 2017 NZST journal, robotics is no longer in the realm of science fiction. Robotics is advancing faster than most people comprehend, and it is becoming pervasive in every application of technology. We are at a point where the term robot is becoming increasingly inadequate to cover the multitude of merging technologies and their applications.
Although those of us born in the last century secretly, or for some overtly, cling to the reassurance of an analog world, our children swim in the currents of the digital age. As such, we owe it to them to teach them how to ‘swim’. Many of them will become highly competent and competitive ‘swimmers’, if we do.
So why should we be insisting that robotics is an option for all students, at all schools in New Zealand? Would such a knowledge specific option like this even appeal to all kids? To answer this question, you only have to talk to the students that get involved and their parents. The feedback I have had has been uniform in its enthusiasm and genuine surprise at the depth of learning that goes on.
“I didn’t know how cool this was until I came and saw them doing it for myself!” Craig.W - parent.
Even the kids themselves don’t see this as schoolwork. Yet they are involved in numeracy, logic, fair testing, self-management and collaboration to a very deep level. So, for the uninitiated, what is learning robotics actually about?
First, students need to get familiarised with the components of their machines, and how to instruct them (coding), but with this knowledge under their belts they can then get on with the real job of problem solving. No matter what type of project or competition they become involved in, there will always be design, programming or tactical challenges to solve. In this way, Robotics augments and is enhanced by STEM. Whether the students are designing, building, testing, driving or programming, they are required to use the full gambit of science tools and processes that they learn through mainstream subjects. Moreover, this helps them to consolidate their learning and entrench understanding through doing. This is why even the most technophobic anti-geek student you have will still show a glimmer of interest when you put a controller for a robot in their hands. Then pass their learning over to their robo-geek peers and the results are astonishing. Students who previously show no aptitude for science can use simple scientific language to explain how the machine operates and why various functions are necessary to win the game.
Robotics programmes are surprising easy to set-up. Even a Teacher with no previous Robotics experience can offer a Primary level programme for students. All you need is a kit and you’re off! Using VEX as a model, kits for VEX IQ are about $400.00 and contain all you need to build a ‘Bot’ and enter a team in the VEX competitions. VEX IQ is all about collaboration, so there will be plenty of help available. The only problem will be in meeting the demand for students wanting to have a go themselves.
"VEX (IQ) Robotics is the ideal technology option, as the competition aspect provides a real-world problem, where students communicate, cooperate and collaborate to design, build and program the best possible solution to the challenge that changes every year. There are multiple levels of achievement and success, especially, when you incorporate the programming/coding aspect as well. If this doesn't give you enough scope, incorporate story writing, creating videos, blogging or vlogging about their design process." Stephan Van Haren, TIC Robotics, St Peter's College, Palmerston North.
If you are keen to develop a Robotics programme for your school, check out these sites first: