I have spent much of this term working and learning in the robotics lab with my students. This includes a Spin Module (90 minutes a week), Big Project (3 hours a week) and 2 My Times (flexitimes at 50 minutes each). Right now, I’m not thinking of being in here as much in future.
To meet the needs of our students who were interested in Robotics I got involved and have benefitted greatly from external support of those far more knowledgeable in this area than I am. But over the last week or so I have begun to question how much of my focus has been on our robotics areas. Because I do not have the skills and knowledge in this area, I am constantly needing to learn more and have found at times that I have not been able to help students as they struggle with certain aspects they are working on. Youtube, Instructables and Arduino tutorials have certainly helped but at times even then I have been flummoxed. So more time being spent (in school and out) learning and curating resources to help me and the students as we progress with their projects.
Of course, this then leads to the critical reflection points of am I adding value for these students?
I still absolutely believe I am adding value and on top of that am providing time and resources for students with a passion in this area to pursue it. Not to mention the great exposure to robotics that these courses have provided for students who had never had a chance to explore it before.
Still, however, I am feeling a change of tack. Instead of “there are students interested in robotics so lets offer robotics projects and modules” I want to shift it to what I see as a more authentic approach. By taking a problem solving/design thinking approach to my course design it will allow for robotics projects to naturally occur as possible solutions to the issues. But it will also allow for the students who would rather use crafts/woodwork/e-textiles/paper/computers/animations etc. to do so as well.
Many of our students (up to 40%) of them have now learned some skills in robotics. By getting them to think how this may be used as an authentic means for solving a problem brought up in a situation it highlights the thinking behind it all. This will no longer be robotics for robotics sake but robotics (or social action or crafts or x, y or z) because it is the most thoughtful solution to the issue/problem at hand.
Will I still be out of my comfort zone at times? Yes, probably (maybe even absolutely). Because I may be managing helping out on a robotics solution and helping students write a submission to a select committee and helping a group who are making a solution out of hard or soft materials. But now, that uncomfortable feeling and the extra time it takes to help the students will feel far more purposeful.
And that to me is the crux of this. I don’t want robotics or other flashy things we have access to here just being done because they’re fun/interesting/the latest fad. I want students to develop a design thinking/Maker mindset as they solve problems and create solutions. These are purposeful, you are designing and making to meet the needs of people affected by problems. When faced with problems in future, they may then start thinking “right, what can we make to meet this need.” And then, I will truly see that pushing out of my comfort zone was absolutely worth the effort!
p.s. maybe this will also allow other teachers in the school to bring robotics into their modules too!