Do you want your children to be more engaged with how things work, to interact with technology separate from an iPad or computer? If so, you should look into robotics. While even the idea of studying robotics may seem exotic, robotics emphasizes meaningful problem-based learning. In other words, our children can learn by doing. They will have hands-on experience because they will be building something! They will be the creators rather than just the users of technology. They will work in teams with classmates. They will have the freedom to try new things and the freedom to try again when one of their ideas does not work all while learning new skills and mastering information from mathematics to circuits to mechanics.
When does the robotics curriculum start? There are robotics classes for every age group, with some starting as young as pre-k and kindergarten. Often, children get their first experience with robotics through the use of the familiar building block. Those building blocks are also the basis for a national competition hosted by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). In the early years, the focus of FIRST competitions is to capture young children's inherent curiosity and direct it toward discovering the wonders of science and technology. These competitions continue through age 18 where teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills, and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.
The FIRST program has been studied by Brandeis University, and beyond the expected interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields, participants felt FIRST had provided them with the kinds of challenging experiences and positive relationships considered essential for positive youth development:
89% indicated they had real responsibilities
76% felt they had a chance to play a leadership role
74% reported that students made the important decisions
96% reported having fun
91% percent felt they really belonged on the team
Curricula have been developed, some funded by the National Science Foundation, that begin in the early grades as well. If robotics and hands-on science and math sound like something you would like to investigate, check out the FIRST website and NASAs robotics site for more information and then talk with your local school!
About the author: For the past decade, Kathryn Hazelett has been a leading voice in public policy. Kathryn is the founder of Still Blue, LLC and serves as a policy consultant for a variety of projects and campaigns. For over three years, Kathryn served as Policy Director for Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, where she chaired the Governors workforce cabinet, aided in the drafting of the executive recommendation for the state budget, and worked on issues such as full-funding for quality pre-k for at-risk children, paid leave for state employees to volunteer in their children's schools, an increase in the states tobacco tax to fund much-needed health programs, and the implementation of a green executive order asking all state agencies to conserve energy and recycle. Kathryn has also worked at the grassroots and state legislative level, tackling issues such as payday lending, the streamlined sales and use tax agreement and conservation funding. She has written for newspapers, non-profit publications, and policymakers. Kathryn has Bachelor of Arts degrees from Northwestern University and Purdue University, a JD from the University of Texas School of Law, and her LLM in Taxation from the New York University School of Law.