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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Achievement-Based Grading, Pass/Try Again Exit Exams

Quality First Grading and Coaching, Pro Pass/Try Again Grading, Exit Exams

email on Pass/Fail;  contra  7 ‘process’ themes as principles  for organizing Roamer Project-Challenges; f(x)=1/x:

* I recast most of the principles from the essay I threatened you with (“Creativity in the Information Age”) as one liners in the “Pedagogical Advantages of Roamer” & the “Teaching Principles” documents

* Didn’t have time to redo docs on PC, but the documents on the disk I included are, except for the .gif graphics, all Standard Word formatting this time and they should translate all right

* I do have a shorter a memo I’ll send tomorrow with some thoughts on the three Concerns of the Shanghai Board of Ed (as I understand them): (i) A Good Curriculum (Combining Academic Rigor with the Freedom to Develop the ‘Habit of Creativity’); (ii) A Good Assessment Program; (iii) A Good Teacher Training Program. The memo lays out a clear philosophy of teacher training and the classroom use of Roamer and I’d be interested to see what your colleagues in Shanghai think of it.

¶©´    ©¶´    ´©¶

Speaking of that, the one doc I couldn’t quite finish is the Annotated Project Tree which shows the Roamer Teaching Principles & Pedagogical Advantages _in action_, so to speak. It also shows how all the seven (what I call ‘process’) themes–(1) observe & imitate; (ii) compare & describe; (iii) identify goal & opportunity…etc.–that the Shanghai people have been considering as organizing principles are accounted for in almost _every_ Roamer Project Challenge as I’ve conceived them.

For example, “identify goal and opportunity”:

•     that is raison d’être of the Project Tree and Oral Exam Criteria Checklists: to help children IDENTIFY the goals and opportunities on the _first day of class_.

•     Then there are the Oral Exam Criteria Checklists (for receiving Pass/Fail credit for a Project Challenge): these help children keep track of goals & opportunities _as they work_ toward solving individual Project Challenges;

•     and finally: “flying colors” extra credit opportunities, a third level of goals: incentives to go ‘beyond excellence’  _after_ the regular Project is completed.

I could go on in the same way about every one of the seven themes. But you get the picture, I’m sure! Emphasize results—and organize activities around goals* —that require students to make something that works in the world & explain how they made it work* — not process, is my suggestion. When you do so the children internalize the goals and actively pursue them, the Teacher is transformed from Mr. “Makework” (What are you going to make us work on today, Mr. Teacher?) to the children’s greatest aid in achieving those goals (climbing the Project “Tree”).

Oral Pass/Fail Exams after every Roamer Project Challenge

(By the way, in case, as is likely, anyone questions the rigor or nature of my suggestion (plea!) for Oral Pass/Fail Exams after every Roamer Project Challenge, I should make a few things clear:

•     * First, they should really be called “Pass or Try Again” not Pass/Fail (the four “grades” I assign for an Oral are (i) Excellent (extra credit ‘senseless beauty’ ‘flying colors’ criteria were met); (ii) Good Work You Pass; (ii) Close, but Not Quite: fix these things and come back; (iv) Nowhere Near Close: what were you thinking!?** )

•     **Second, with the combination of strict criteria and the refusal of the Teacher to just give a grade and let it go, this kind of system is much more effective and rigorous than the traditional letter grade for each assignment system. I don’t say it’s crucial to the success of any hands-on technology and creativity program–it isn’t–but it’s adoption really makes a classroom take off– especially viz. creativity and independent problem solving.

****Finally, Uday, are closed form equations the same as ‘bounded’? and open form the same as ‘unbounded’? e.g., is f(x)=1/x an unbounded (i.e. ‘open’) equation for the interval 0-1, as x approaches 0, etc.?  If so, I think I understand something of your PhD endeavors on closed form equations (not the details! but I read this in Berlinski’s _A Tour of the Calculus_: that ‘theorems about ¶ itself, global in the sense that they reveal aspects of the continuous functions that hold for the whole of the interval on which they are continuous are typically very powerful and very hard to prove….the proofs of these theorems are generally thought to fall outside the domain of the calculus. They are in any case very subtle… these theorems are about ¶, but they are also about the processes that ¶ and functions like ¶ represent; and so they make a claim about the composition of the world, its true, correct, and inner nature……”). Is that the “MacGuffin,” as Alfred Hitchcock used to say? or am I on the wrong track completely?!

Talk to you both soon, Tom

PS I’ll check my email this week. If ryaneyes@aol.com bounces your mail back for some reason (a typo in my filter entry), try carlja@aol.com, which is open to hoi poloi!

* Break complex educational goals into simpler parts, link the parts together into staircases (e.g. Project “Trees”) of increasingly complex or difficult challenges (this approach makes accomplishing the main goal easier, gives children a sense of increasing power, of an immediate point or purpose to the work they did on earlier Projects, even if it’s real life aplications are for the time being remote (You cannot do this with organizing themes based on process: instead of work that seems to lead somewhere you will get the appearance of “one darn thing after another,” no point, no connections, no internalizing of goals, no interest…)

* When you do so the children internalize the goals and actively pursue them, the Teacher is transformed from Mr. “Makework” (What are you going to make us work on today, Mr. Teacher?) to the children’s greatest aid in achieving those goals (climbing the Project “Tree”).

** “Let’s look at the criteria again and see how you can go about passing this Project.”