Learning about Tom Sawyer, the quadratic equation and the American Revolution are a given in schools. Giving students a basic foundation of knowledge is supposed to help them navigate life—but the foundation of knowledge now includes concepts like computers, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
Schools place a growing emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), but their curriculum isn't keeping pace with advances in technology. Call us biased, but we think that an early emphasis on robotics would be an excellent start.
Robots and artificial intelligence are slowly becoming a dominant aspect of the world. From our banks to our phones to our cars and homes, the technology is everywhere. Starting from day one, schools have an opportunity to provide their students with the opportunity to learn about and even program these tools.
As far as teaching robotics is concerned, there are many kinds of good news. The first good news is that the tools necessary to teach robotics to children have been maturing for decades. Lego Mindstorms, for example—a programmable robotics platform based on the popular children's toy—isn't just an expensive Christmas gift for precocious children. Rather, it's the outcome of a sustained effort to bring robots into the classroom that goes back as far as 1994 (caution: that link goes to a '94-era web page).
Other tools, such as the Scratch programming language, and additional robotic teaching assists, have combined with decades of research proving that early childhood exposure to robots in the classroom has extremely positive benefits. In 2002, a paper directly tied robotics to the constructionist philosophy of learning. This states that "people learn better when they are engaged in designing and building their own personally meaningful artifacts and sharing them with others in a community."
In short, teaching children robotics doesn't just turn them into tiny engineers. The paper above describes examples where robotics was successfully used to teach difficult concepts, such as metamorphosis, balance, and the lifecycle, to children as young as three years old.
As of 2016, the burgeoning field of robotics has been firmly entrenched in the nation's schools. Over the next ten years, the Every Student Succeeds Act (recently signed into law by President Obama), will train one hundred thousand new STEM teachers for America's school system. The only bad news here is that these teachers are mostly destined for middle schools and high schools. It's our hope that, based on decades of research into early childhood education, some of these teachers will percolate down into kindergartens and elementary schools as well.
Beneficial for All
Teaching robotics as an essential piece of science and technology in schools will benefit every student, educator and parent involved in the education process. Children won't just learn about math, programming, science, and engineering. Rather, they can use these concepts to unlock an interest and aptitude in less related fields such as history, language, literature, music, and art.
Robotics is a subject suitable to students of all intelligence and ability levels, allowing any student to participate and learn something from the study of robotics. The instant engagement robots create is ideal for students of all kinds.
The skills educators try to instill in students for future use in their lives can all be accomplished in one area of study. Robots prepare students for critical thinking, technical specifics of some subjects, and combining knowledge for one outcome. Incorporating robotics into today’s educational curriculum will have a significant impact on how we all understand our world and robots’ place in our society.