21st Century “Mind Tools”: Pedagogical Advantages of Programmable Robots

Image14 * Probot Racer Robot

“Programmable robots  can serve as the basis of a powerful problem-solving curriculum that will help young children develop the habit of creative, independent problem-solving while introducing them to the key technologies of the modern Information Age.”

  • add LINK: Not all robots are created equal: See “How to Choose the Right Robot” (or, “How to Tell If Your Robotics program is bogus”)


update this to match the latest pdf, 2017 Pedagogical Advantages of Programmable Robots-it’s not about the (specific) robot. © 2003-2021 TE Donahue

The Pedagogical Advantages of Programmable Robots

  • Programmable Robots-on-wheels encourage children to work with their hands and their minds to move through and manipulate their environment.

“The hand is the instrument of the intellect.” — Maria Montessori

As With All Well-designed Manipulatives:

  • Programmable Robots provide a medium through which to explore the world.
  • Programmable Robots allow for meaningful play (closely related to creativity): play that reveals to children the secrets of their environment.
  • Programmable Robots provide a material path to abstraction: i.e., a material, or concrete, way for children to model abstract concepts like length, angle, or negative vs. positive numbers.

Unlike Inert, Passive, Show-&-Tell Manipulatives:
(And many electronic games, toys, and computer “educational” software)

  • Programmable Robots are multi-use: exploration, modeling, and problem-solving tools.
  • Programmable Robots are not limited to rigid or prescribed (pre-programmed) uses or behaviors: children can explore their environment creatively, testing and refining their concepts of it as they go.
  • Programmable Robots allow children to think creatively about the solutions to a large variety of inherently interesting problems, and to easily and immediately test their possible solutions.
  • The Robot’s behaviors are transparent, not mysterious like the “black boxes” (software games driven by invisible code, electronic devices with invisible pre-programmed circuits) that children are handed to play with or “learn” from but which they do not understand. A Programmable Robot’s behaviors are the direct result of the children’s actions.

“Whatever I cannot recreate for myself I do not understand.”
— Richard Feynmann, Nobel Laureate in Physics

Dramatic & Interactive • Early Learning Advantage • Gets Kids “In the Game”
Programmable Robots get all children writing code and seeing computers as tools, not toys or entertainment devices.

  • Children can identify with their Robots, anthropomorphizing them and putting themselves in their robot’s “shoes” to visualize movement in space: a powerful problem solving technique.
  • This dramatic aspect of the Robots makes possible another powerful learning tool: the idea of the Robot as the children’s student. Children learn by “teaching” their Robot to solve Project-Challenges.

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