One of the biggest challenges for educators is creating equity among students of widely differing backgrounds and abilities. When I was a math teacher in public middle and high schools in the San Francisco Bay area for two years, I was always looking for a way to use technology to support equity in my classroom. That’s when I learned about RobotLAB. Robots are such a great tool to engage students in a variety of subjects, regardless of their skill sets. Anyone can play with a robot—and everyone wants to play with a robot.
Not only did RobotLAB use robots in education, but they also valued the educator’s perspective, incorporating teachers’ (and students’) points of view into every step of the user experience. This teacher-friendly approach to robotics convinced me to leave the classroom and join the RobotLAB team in 2016.
My work started when RobotLAB was moving its curriculum materials online. So, I oversaw transforming the paper version of their lessons into engaging activities where the students explore, share, and collaborate online. We were trying to find the best way to provide fun and appealing activities that inspire students to interact as if they were playing a game, while at the same time making sure they go through all the learning steps. This process was the beginning of Engage! K12, a new digital platform that provides robot-based lessons for a wide range of subjects and age levels.
Engage! K-12 is an interactive and hands-on learning experience organized by eye-catching themes (such as soccer-playing robots or autonomous cars). Students and teachers can access the browser-based learning ecosystem from any device. A user-friendly interface allows teachers, even those with zero programming experience, to bring their lessons to life with virtual or physical robots.
When I was a classroom teacher, I wanted to use engaging technologies to make the learning experience better for my students, but the issue was that I didn’t have time to learn the new technology, or to create lessons to use the tools in my current curriculum. With Engage! K12, I work closely with the development team to make sure the user experience is very intuitive and to minimize the technical issues that the teacher has to deal with during class. Another focus is to provide a deep learning experience for the students rather than just producing an eye-catching entertainment platform.
Our solution to this issue is simple: All the curriculum makes the students do something, such as identify a procedure, answer a question, solve a mystery, make a decision, or confront a challenge. This approach helps the students “enter” the task from the beginning of the class. The students are invited to use multiple strategies to solve a challenge (even in high school math lessons). Engage! K12 allows the students to use multiple media such as tables, drawings, and graphs to explore the concepts.
Engage! K-12 currently houses a range of lessons focusing on subjects or concepts that students often struggle with. Lessons are searchable by grade level, subject, and CCSS or TEKS standard, and cover topics from coding to STEM to storytelling. Teachers can use RobotLAB’s existing lessons, customize them for their classes, or create their own. Each lesson leads students from idea to construction to application to results.
The embedded technology in Engage! K12 frees students to share their ideas either publicly or anonymously. They can then check if their solution works in a safe environment using a digital simulation we call a “virtual robot.” Once they observe the virtual robot’s action—for example, kicking a soccer ball at an angle given by the student—they can then send their instructions to the “real” robot and see their work come to life. This activity provides a rich educational experience by having students analyze their strategy, fix their solution if necessary, learn from their peers, and apply what they learn to their final solution.
Engage! K12 is a new platform so we are still gathering data from users and doing efficacy studies to determine the educational impact of the lessons, but the initial reaction among educators has been much like mine when I first started using robots in class: extremely positive. Teachers welcome technology that they can get started with quickly, that gets their students excited, and that ultimately provides a powerful, collaborative learning experience.
Sook Campanelli is a former math teacher and curriculum developer who is currently an Educational Impact Specialist at RobotLAB. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s in educational technology from Boston University.