In our work we always place children and their needs first. We design our activities with our knowledge of pedagogical design and focus our scientific approach on understanding the short-term impact – intended or not intended – of our educational activities. We collect data from different sources – artefacts created during our activities, observations, and interviews – and triangulate our findings during our qualitative evaluation.
Our vision is to enlighten all young people about robotic technology and its possibilities. We follow different strategies towards that vision by addressing different skill sets. Beside content knowledge about robotics technology, we focus on technological literacy, the 21st century skills or 4Cs (critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication), as well as maker, innovator, and entrepreneur mindsets.
One goal of our activities is to give young people an understanding of what technological literacy means and how important it is.
We also design our activities in a way that young people receive opportunities to discover their strengths and fields that they might become interested in. In order to succeed in what they are doing, all young people need to develop 21st century skills or 4Cs: creative and critical thinking, collaboration and communication. In our activity design we create spaces for young people to cultivate these skills on their own, with a little guidance from us here and there.
Some of our activities are designed to help young people (re)discover the joy of creating, with the goal to strengthen their creative confidence and perceived self-efficacy. The balance between structure and freedom is hereby crucial. Design Thinking from Stanford’s d.school not only provides a process for making and innovating, but also a mindset of openness and empathy. Depending on their age, we also make space for young people to cultivate an entrepreneur mindset by developing ideas for robotic product solutions and pitching them to experts.
We define technology as human-made and useful artefacts, as opposed to nature which could exist or grow without human interference. The knowledge and process of making artefacts and using them are also included in our technology definition.
We define robot as an autonomous self-driven technology with a physical embodiment that senses its environment, reacts to changes in it and eventually changes it.
The physical embodiment is a premise. Software algorithms or avatars are not robots. A humanoid or anthropomorphic design is not a premise for an artefact to be defined as a robot. Robots can have any shapes.
The capability of learning, and thus adapting strategies of interaction with the environment, is called machine learning or in a broader context artificial intelligence (AI). A robot, by definition, does not have to be capable of learning. If a robot has machine learning algorithms implemented, it is a robot with artificial intelligence.
There are different pedagogical approaches underlying educational robotics activities. For example, constructionism, project-based learning, design-based learning, problem-based learning, collaborative learning, learning by doing or inquiry-based learning. Many of these approaches are not mutually exclusive, thus can be combined with each other for informed learning experiences during educational robotics activities.
Motivation and emotions play an important role in learning. Children are driven to grow and assert themselves, as well as to love and be loved. Considering these drivers, adapting learning activities to children’s lives and interests (Piaget, 1969) and empowering children to learn through play (Montessori, 1964) will motivate them. These ideas build the base of the theoretical framework of constructivism. Social support enhances the learning experience; knowledge and strategies are shared and developed through social interaction with other people. Language, tools and artefacts are important media to externalize ideas, which in turn is key for communication with others (Vygotsky, 1978).
Tangible artefacts build the base for an important theory of learning and education strategy, constructionism, a term coined by Seymour Papert based on the constructivist theoretical framework of Piaget and others. The main idea is that “learners actively construct and reconstruct knowledge out of their experiences in the world […] by building personally meaningful artefacts” (Kafai and Resnick, 1996). Based on the principles of constructionism, Resnick (2014) suggests that children need four things to flourish: project, passion, peers, and play. These are the 4 P’s of creative learning. People learn best when they actively work on projects that are meaningful to them by generating new ideas, designing prototypes and refining them iteratively. Working on a project that is related to their life or is important to them motivates people to work harder and longer, enhances their persistence in case of drawbacks, and may even evolve into a passion. When people share ideas and collaborate on projects with peers the learning flourishes as a social activity. Learning also involves playful experimentation like trying new things, testing boundaries or taking risks (Resnick, 2014).
At the same time, playing can diverse from the pursuit of rationality (e.g., the building of useful artefacts), into humor and whimsy that are also meaningful as “oblique ways of looking at the world that brings about new insights” (e.g., pretense or phantasy play) (Ackerman, 2014). New insights or ideas can be externalized or given form in different ways, e.g. as a poem or song (auditory), a prototype or drawing (tactile), or a scheme or description (visual), and thus become tangible and shareable, which in turn helps the ideas to be formed and transformed (Papert and Harel, 1991). As sharing ideas and building new ideas on experiences with others are crucial parts of the constructionist learning process, collaboration and communication become important constructionist elements (Kafai and Resnick, 1996).
Project-based learning (PBL) also has its roots in constructivist learning theories (Condliffe, 2016) and many intersections with constructionism. It is an approach that supports deeper learning and 21st century skills (Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012) by involving students in the construction of knowledge and in-depth inquiry through active exploration of real-life problems and challenges. These activities can “mirror the complex social situation of expert problem solving” and thus introduce students to problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, collaboration skills “should lead students to confront and resolve conflicting ideas” (Condliffe, 2016).
Condliffe (2016) summarizes the design principles of PBL activities in her literature review as following:
1. Curriculum design principles (what is taught?)
a. Driving questions to motivate learning
b. Targeting significant learning goals
c. Using projects to promote learning
d. Dedicating sufficient time
2. Instructional approaches (how do students develop new skills and knowledge?)
a. Promoting the construction of knowledge
b. Cultivating student engagement
c. Using scaffolds to guide student learning
d. Encouraging student choice
e. Supporting collaborative learning
3. Assessment design principles (how do students demonstrate learning?)
a. Creating a product that answers the driving question
b. Providing opportunities for student reflection and teacher feedback
c. Presenting products to authentic public audiences
Design-based learning is a special case of PBL. It can introduce young people to the holistic view of product design as well as the notion and practices of design thinking (Grammenos, 2015).
Ackermann, E. 2014. Amusement, Delight, Whimsy, and Wit, the Place of Humor in Human Creativity. In Constructionism 2014 International Conference, Vienna, Austria.
Condliffe, B., Visher, M. G., Bangser, M. R., Drohojowska, S., and Saco, L. 2016. Project-Based Learning: A Literature Review. MDRC.
Grammenos, D. 2015. Future designers: a rollercoaster for the mind. In Interactions, 23(1), 58-63.
Kafai, Y. B. and Resnick, M. (Eds.). 1996. Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Montessori, 1964. The Montessori method. (George, A.E., trans.). New York: Schocken.
Papert, S. and Harel, I. 1991. The Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Pellegrino, J. W. and Hilton, M. L. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. 1969. The Psychology of the child.
Resnick, M. 2014. Give P’s a chance: Projects, Peers, Passion, Play. In Proceedings of Constructionism and Creativity Conference, Vienna, Austria.
Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press.