Naturally curious, young school children find the sciences not only fascinating – but even exciting. Unfortunately, this curiosity tends to fade away somewhere along the way to adulthood. The key to creating young adults who remain passionate about science and technology is to start at an early age and then maintain this interest throughout their secondary schooling. What better way to get young people interested in science than to bring in the robots? This was the thinking behind the EU-funded ER4STEM project, which set out to ignite and maintain children’s curiosity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) using educational robotics. According to project researchers, robotics represent a multidisciplinary and highly innovative field that encompasses physics, maths, informatics, industrial design, and the social sciences. Furthermore, the design, programming, and exploitation of robots and related services requires the use teamwork, creativity, and entrepreneurial skills. “Children are fascinated with robots, and this fascination, along the variety of fields and topics that they cover, make robotics a powerful idea to engage with,” says Project Coordinator Markus Vincze. “Children can easily connect robots to their personal interests and share their ideas through these tangible artefacts, something that is equally popular with girls as with boys.” Connecting students to robots The tool for connecting students to robots is the ER4STEM Framework. “The ER4STEM Framework sets out connections between 21st century skills, robotics, STEM, and pedagogy with practical guidelines and tools that educators can use to design educational robotic activities,” explains Vincze. The Framework’s pedagogical tools are based on theory, practice, and extensive research. It includes a general curriculum to help teachers use robots to link technologies and ideas across subject matters. Researchers also created an activity plan template that guides teachers in designing integrated STEM workshops and lessons involving robots. All of these materials are freely available to educators via the er4stem repository. One lesson on the repository teaches teamwork and problem solving by providing students with a variety of materials that they must use to collectively build a robot. A similar lesson provides a pre-made kit and teaches students about programming and angles as they build their robot. One particularly unique lesson demonstrates how robots can be used to solve real-life problems. Here, students use computer-aided design (CAD) to design robots programmed to build shelters for refugees in Greece. “Providing multiple ways for young people to engage with robotics was a key aim of the ER4STEM project,” says Vincze. “The ER4STEM curriculum and repository illustrate various ways to inspire young people in STEM through robotics.” The value of STEM During the project, over 4 500 students between the ages of six and 19 from across Europe took part in ER4STEM workshops. “These workshops demonstrated the importance of providing students with multiple ways of engaging with educational robots, particularly through the creative arts, and the value of an integrated STEM approach – both for learning and for engagement,” adds Vincze. The ER4STEM was one of six finalists for the European Digital Skills in Education Award (2018).
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