Educational robotics: the future of engineering in the classrooms
We live in a society in which technology plays a fundamental role. We use it daily in a multitude of tasks, but we know very little about its operation and which processes are behind its creation. Educational robotics, which is increasingly implemented from primary to university education, is helping to change the paradigm. To ensure that the citizens of the future are able and free to create, modify and design tools that promote progress and equality, they must stop being users and become creators too.
Robots have lived with us for nearly a century, first as the main characters of science fiction and, for the last few decades, as the best possible allies to help us solve increasingly complex problems. These programmable and versatile machines are a transversal pedagogical tool for the teaching of what is known as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), because it centres efforts on the practical application of theoretical knowledge, focusing always on the resolution of technological problems from creativity.
According to the World Economic Forum, in five years more than a third of the knowledge and ability (or skills) that are required will have changed. Those that will be in most demand in 2020 are, among others, the solution of complex problems, critical thinking, coordination with others and cognitive flexibility. All these skills will require more analytical and innovative minds, adapted to the new contexts and challenges posed by the world we live in and the world that is to come. These skills are precisely some of those enhanced by educational robotics, initially developed in the field of extracurricular activities, but increasingly closer to being implemented as a subject on the official curriculum, as in the Community of Madrid, where Technology, Programming and Robotics are given in Secondary Education to enhance the learning and skills of students in the digital age.
There are several systems that help students and teachers to delve into the subject. The most widespread is Lego WeDo 2.0, which allows you to build up to twelve different models with the classic Lego pieces, several sensors and a motor that connects to your computers or tablets. This allows students to program the behaviour of their creations with an extremely simple, easy and fun tool, thanks to a programming language developed by MIT called Scratch, which works with visual concepts directed by events.
"The best way to learn is by building for yourself"
At more advanced levels, Arduino is the perfect answer to the needs of secondary education: an open ecosystem that combines hardware and software for the creation of interactive objects. With it, more complex tasks can be undertaken, and it is a flexible educational resource developed by a growing global community, inspired by the philosophy of free culture and shared knowledge. Its influence has reached such a point that it has contributed to the origin of the Maker Movement, an extension of the do-it-yourself culture centred above all on 3D printing, robotics and electronics.
The pedagogy that promotes robotics also serves to develop many other transversal skills such as teamwork, care of the material, leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and management of error and frustration. Working with technology in the classroom allows children to develop the skills and knowledge required by today's world. Either because of its fun component or because of how technology attracts young people, its use is an extra motivation for the student. This generates an ideal learning opportunity to implement methodological and innovative changes in education. In this sense, the emphasis on STEAM might serve as a laboratory for change through which to initiate and develop an evolution of the educational system that both families and teachers have long been calling for.
The best way to learn is by building for yourself, facing challenges such as those posed by robotics, programming and 3D printing. What do I want to create? What purpose will it fulfil? What steps must be taken to do it? The process helps one to learn from within how technology works and lose the fear of creating it. Testing, studying, sharing and improving technology benefits the community, but also the whole of humanity because it enhances innovation, which is the necessary basis to implement developments in such fundamental areas as health, architecture or care of the environment.
In education, tools such as 3D printing are allowing reality to be made tangible and students to move from abstract learning, which necessarily begins in imagination, to a concrete learning, which starts from the tangible. The best way to understand the impact of this type of learning is with examples such as that of two students from the El Turó school in Montcada i Reixac, Barcelona. Guided by their computer science teacher, Guillem Marqués and Ulises Madurell, 11, designed a bionic prosthesis to help one of their classmates, who was born without her right hand, to improve her living conditions. With projects like this, which are increasingly frequent in school, children discover that through technology, which is shared and accessible from anywhere in the world, they are able to help and improve the living conditions of someone in particular.
In a world that is advancing at full speed, new generations must be able to develop their abilities in the technological field as soon as possible. It is these who are destined to implement the necessary changes for a more egalitarian, fairer, and better society. Their almost innate interest in the subject and their creative potential suppose an ideal starting point to definitively enter a 21st century loaded with future.