Using robotics to motivate 'back door' learning

Petre, Marian and Price, Blaine (2004). Using robotics to motivate 'back door' learning. Education and Information Technologies, 9(2) pp. 147–158.




This paper suggests that robotics can provide a vehicle for guiding primary and secondary school children toward an effective understanding of programming and engineering principles. It observes that children find robotics stimulating and motivating, and that their interest in, and focus on, 'making the robot do what I want' leads them 'via the back door' to learn about programming and engineering in a way that is both well-grounded and generaliseable. These observations arise from empirical studies of children participating in robotics competitions: we conducted observations and interviews with all the participating teams at two robotics events (one regional, one international), and we followed one young robotics team in a case study. The children had almost all built their robots using LEGO MindStorms for specific competitions, with soccer, rescue and dance events. The children typically worked in teams, building robots as an extra-curricular activity supported by a teacher/mentor. The children came from a variety of educational and social backgrounds. The paper considers what makes robotics motivating to children, including children who are not considered 'technically oriented'. It describes learning that has emerged from children's experiences in building and programming robots. It describes examples of children learning subjects that they previously considered difficult and inaccessible, in order to solve problems in robotics. It describes examples of children identifying and understanding principles, concepts, and elements of practice that are fundamental to programming and engineering. It describes further how secondary school students working in teams learned that this programming and engineering knowledge has a social context.

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