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How to make robots not scary

I read this article this morning:

The phrase that killed me was:

“Now, I have to tell you something : I don’t see sparkles in my student’s eyes anymore.
They still love working with their robots, but robots aren’t fascinating for them anymore. And that’s how I know I did a good job.”

The sentiment of the article I agreed with, eg that robots are less scary when we know how they work. But if your students started excited then lost their interest, it seems they ran out of things to do, and not that the class was successful…

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I think what he really means is that it’s like learning how a magic trick works. When you do not know, it does feel like magic.

I agree with you though that robotics can still feel magical after knowing some of the how it works. That usually involves pride in doing something difficult and/or feeling creative in work.

@Chris, I think his definition of success is different than you’re thinking. His definition of success was that the kids understand that robots are tools and not magical creatures. When you make people familiar with something, it doesn’t make them bored with it, but it does change the type of excitement they get in working with it. He made the point of saying that the kids still enjoyed working on their robots. They just approached it from a point of understanding the mechanism, rather than thinking of it as magic. I guarantee they didn’t run out of things to do, nor that they were bored in that class. The loss of “sparkle” in their eyes was due to the new understanding of what makes the robots tick. I think he chose that phrase poorly, because it is easy to infer from it that the kids are bored. However I don’t believe that was his intention in the statement.

@Scotty @steven I think you’re both correct and I agree with the sentiment of the article (robots are not magic, different measures of success…), but I react poorly when the language and word choice of those teaching indicate that that Math, programming, and hard sciences are boring or dull

The article starts with ‘boring math formula’s’ and ‘bored students’ and ends with ‘the robots are not fascinating’ and ‘they have learned to be neither afraid, nor fascinated’. These matter of fact statements bother me. I know you’d both agree that math, robots, and programming are INCREDIBLY fascinating and I hope the teaching of these subjects are conveyed with some level of enthusiasm!

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Perhaps the author is trying to make a point about the different levels of knowledge acquisition and different learning styles of students? When I received my teaching certificate from Georgia Tech, during the course of study, we learned about Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom’s Taxonomy | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University), which describes “depth” of learning. Students begins at the bottom, memorizing facts, rules and concepts, and as they progress further up the learning spectrum, they reach a level of application, wherein they can begin to apply knowledge they’ve gained at prior stages. Eventually, with enough time spent, they will begin to make logical connections between things they’ve learned across domains, and they begin to formulate their own hypotheses.

For some learning styles, certain individuals retain more information or “learn better” when they apply the knowledge (i.e. at the “apply” phase in the taxonomy). The act of “doing” is the means by which they learn best. So for many students, sitting in a chair listening to the formulas, postulates, theorems, and corollaries being read aloud, is boring, because that particular student doesn’t gather information and learn well using that particular information channel (in this case, aurally). Listening to facts recited orally or reading a textbook is not how they absorb information best. Instead, they gravitate toward learning about those concepts by doing, which is why programming with robots is so valuable. The robot brings these concepts to life, and the contextual information surrounding the robot helps crystallize the knowledge for students of a particular learning style.

Good teachers design their classroom exercises to reach students who are at all levels of the taxonomy and who learn by leveraging their dominant style of learning. Thus, redundancy in information delivery when teaching is critical to reaching all your students. To phrase it differently, all information should be taught using all available channels: aurally, visually, textually, verbally, graphically, physically, etc.

More information on learning styles can be found here (https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/)

My point is that the class is successful when the students have learned the concepts that the class set out to teach to them. The students may simply be bored with their robots because these students have moved on to a different level in the taxonomy. If that’s true then both Chris and the teacher are correct. The teacher is right because the class was successful and the students now understand what he wanted to teach them. And Chris is right because the teacher needs to recognize when his students need education at a new level of the taxonomy, and present them with new challenges at the higher levels of learning.

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