George Lucas Educational Foundation
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In President Obama's final State of the Union address, he expressed the importance of "helping students learn to write computer code." In a recent YouTube video for, Obama spoke to students, urging them to "master the tools and technology that will change just about everything." Obama is correct. Our students' focus must shift from passive purveyors of technology to creators of programs, apps, and inventions. We must push them past low levels of static reception into a dynamic mindset, highlighting and nourishing thought and imagination to improve our world.

The elephant in the room is the cost associated with computer science technology. Programs like, Khan Academy, and others offer a viable solution. They're free to educators and parents, offer motivational incentives, and attract students with highly colorful graphics and relatable character interfaces, such as zombie attacks or familiar video game characters. Sites like these are the first step to introduce coding into the classroom.

Robotics is the next step. Over the past few years, the market has witnessed the rise of robotic tools -- like Sphero, Wonder Workshop and Lego Mindstorms -- that teach students how to code. At its core, robotics moves students away from the solitary interface of a computer screen and into an active social community. Not only does the space of the student's world increase in size, so do the benefits that computer science has to offer.

Teachers know what their students need emotionally, socially, and academically. Therefore, teachers should be properly armed to advocate for change, when needed. Here are five reasons to consider purchasing robotics for the K-12 classroom.

1. Sensory Learning

Children learn with all of their senses, and robotics aligns more naturally with the active, hands-on development of a K-5 student. Studies have shown that a multi-sensory approach activates a larger number of cognitive connections. Robots like Dash and Dot from the Wonder Workshop encourage students to touch, build, measure, follow, run, and skip beside Dash, as this bright blue bubble on wheels treks across a grid, avoiding obstacles or launching ping-pong balls. Students are emotionally and physically engaged, making increased neural connections that result in active learning and enhanced long-term experiential recall.

2. Improved Socialization

Social learning is nothing new. Back in the 1970s, Albert Bandura established the most well-known theory of modern social learning, which purported that people learn from each other through observation, imitation, and modeling. This line of thinking still holds true today. Communication and collaboration are critical skills to prepare young people for the world outside the classroom doors. Robotics challenges offer students opportunities in all forms of socialization, including (and most importantly, developing) burgeoning listening skills, and considering and evaluating alternate perspectives.

By now, you are probably wondering, "Why robotics?" While it's possible to integrate hands-on learning and opportunities for increased socialization by other means, the third reason is critical to robotics.

3. Opportunities for Hands-On Innovation

Daniel Pink theorizes that the 21st century has witnessed an altered mindset in the global market. In this new world, the MFA is worth more than the MBA. While computers can be programmed to attend to logical, linear outputs, creativity and innovative thinking can never be automated. This gives rise to costly implications for our students. While preparing them to calculate, spell, and recall the names and locations of states on a map, are we balancing the curriculum with opportunities to problem solve and ask the questions that bring forth innovations? Robotic challenges offer students exciting opportunities to build and express their imaginations. There is an authenticity of purpose inherent in bringing the seed of an idea to fruition: from the brainstorming phase to construction of artifacts that have real world value.

4. Raising the Level of Rigor

The highest levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (Benjamin Bloom, 1956) are application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. At these peak levels of thinking, students begin to consider real-world applications for knowledge. Facts and ideas become building blocks with which they can construct innovative applications, products, and inventions. Jobs in the 21st century will require our students to perform at the highest levels of thinking. And yet, how often are we providing them with these opportunities?

5. Cost-Effective Investment

Robotics programs vary in cost, but one unifying factor is that they are generally non-consumable. This translates into valuable returns for multiple classes over subsequent years. Of course, there are typically updates that are needed, but their cost is considerably less than those related to the impact that the solitary computer experience is inflicting on our students. Chiropractors have witnessed an influx of children experiencing headaches and back, neck, and shoulder pain resulting from sedentary lifestyles and excessive use of computers. Conversely, robotics gets students up and moving, lowering associated health costs and risks.

In my own elementary classroom, I’ve integrated the arts, including music and theater, into our robotics program. My third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students participated in the Wonder Workshop: Wonder League Robotics Competition. Within the course of seven space-themed missions, they learned block coding, but beyond that, they learned to problem solve, create, innovate, and take on differing perspectives while delivering new understanding to themselves and their peers. With one glance at their video submissions, the viewer will understand the wealth of learning reaped from this experience in robotics. Their song for Mission Seven emphasizes this message.

The desire to create is nothing new. A combination of hearts, minds, and bodies has always contributed to the betterment of our world. Robotics values ingenuity and the limitless possibilities of creation.

Have you used robotics in your classroom? Please share your experiences below in the comments section.

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Julia L. Dweck's picture
Julia L. Dweck
GiftedTawk, M. Ed. Gifted Specialist

Hi Alyssa. Thanks for the feedback. It sounds like your school has made huge strides, which is great. However, before bringing students into the water, teachers should feel competent and confident with the technology. If I'm understanding correctly, it sounds as if your staff was asked to jump right in without sufficient training. Making sure that you can facilitate and guide students with the technology is an important first step. As an educator, your level of confidence and enthusiasm is palpable and communicative. The K-5 lab teacher will be helpful, but professional development for teachers is essential. Thanks, again, for writing. Good luck.

Eric Coy's picture

Hi all!
I have been looking for a curriculum or text book for teaching robotics and engineering to upper elementary or middle school students. Our students currently are able to participate in a robotics club that competes in FLL, but I'm looking for something systematic or well planned to educate and challenge students. Any ideas???

Martin Diaz Alvarez's picture
Martin Diaz Alvarez
Business Consultant

As Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, used to say: "programming is good, because it teaches you how to think"

Jayce Carter's picture

Great article! I teach a 5-8 STEM exploratory class and have really tried to get involved using coding in my classroom. My 5th grade students use the code studio on and love it. As a teacher it is great to be able to monitor their progress and each of my students can be at different places in the program. It works really nicely for the students because they can work at their own pace. In my 8th grade STEM we received a grant for Project Lead the Way and the Automation and Robotics course is my favorite. It has been so cool to see my student building and programming robots. It awesome to see the kids excel who you wouldn't typically think would. Thanks again for sharing you brought up so very interest points! My hope is that all schools can start to teach computer science and robotics, but it is so expensive. So fortunate that we were able to get a grant so we could provide our students with such an awesome experience.

Julia L. Dweck's picture
Julia L. Dweck
GiftedTawk, M. Ed. Gifted Specialist

Thanks for your feedback, Jayce. One of the mitigating factors of cost, is that robots are reusable, unlike so many other consumables we typically purchase in teaching. The upfront investment is definitely worth the longterm gains. Begin small. Prove the worth of your robotics program and administration will take heed and hopefully grow your program.

Julia Dweck's picture

The pencil is only as powerful as the imagination of its user. And so it is with robotics. Students must be given opportunities to learn robotics in the classroom, so they can innovate, solve and improve our world. Thanks for writing.

Keith Touchton's picture

I'm not sure I agree with this statement. I teach choir and do not see any benefits that coding can bring to my classroom. I'm open to suggestions but am leery also.

Julia L. Dweck's picture
Julia L. Dweck
GiftedTawk, M. Ed. Gifted Specialist

Hi Keith. Interestingly enough, there are programs you can use with students to code/compose music. For younger students, the Wonder Workshop offers the Xylo app. And, Think Fun offers a musical composition program, which is not strictly coding, but offers students an entree into coding with students arranging their own musical compositions. Music, mathematics and coding have a lot in common and tap into similar areas of the brain.

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