There is something about a robot that draws students to it.
“As soon as you bring a robot into a classroom, kids are already curious and wondering and excited,” says Shawn Abele, instructional technology coordinator for Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona. “It’s something else, but it also gives them the practical experience of connecting what they’re learning to something in the real world.”
However, Abele and Jon Castelhano, the district’s CEO for technology, also know that sometimes robot technology is used in the classroom just as a fun way to pass the time and keep children entertained instead of an educational tool. So when their district purchased a series of robot kits in 2020 to lend to various schools and classrooms in the district, they were determined to avoid using the devices as a gimmick.
“It’s not a toy in itself. We can really help integrate it into your curriculum,” Castelhano says.
Integration of robots
When Gilbert Public Schools first purchased sets of robots, the full learning potential was not realized.
“They felt more like a show-and-tell thing that was one and done. And that was not really any of us who wanted to,” says Abele. “Then we turned our focus more towards how we could actually connect this with what the children are learning in their classes, the standards that they are actually addressing. ”
Twelve technology integration educators (TIEs) work with educators at the district’s 40 schools and have created the Library of Robots, or TIE-brary, a library of robotic kits that can be checked out and used in classrooms. The district also offers standard-adjusted resources for these sets in different subjects and for different grade levels.
“If they work with angles and trajectory and such topics, then they can look through the document and see if there are connections there,” Castelhano says.
So far, robots have been used to teach programming and other computer science as well as math, social studies and less expected topics such as ELL and writing. Demand is growing so the district is expanding its TIE brary by more sets.
Castelhano says that while the TIE brary program is generally popular with elementary school students, it shows that robots can also be an important educational tool for high school students.
Tips for buying robots for your district
Castelhano says it helps to have someone from the technology department who has some knowledge of robots to guide the purchase, as different robots are better suited to different age groups. Gilbert Public Schools uses Code-e-Pillars with pre-K and kindergarten students to teach coding, math, social sciences and other subjects. They use Ozobots with K-12 students and Dash with class 3-12 students.
While the price can be a deterrent to buying these sets, there are grants that can help with financing, Castelhano says.
Even more important than the robots themselves, though, is making sure you associate their use with curriculum goals from the beginning. “Let people know that this is not just for a happy, fun half-day time that you want to fill the time out of,” says Abele.
Castelhano says that this curriculum component is necessary to get approval from your teachers. “Teachers don’t want anything extra to do if it’s just a play activity, or if it’s a special substitute, or if it’s a toy,” he says. “There’s relevance in the teaching part of it.”