Learning to work with robotics can give elementary preservice teachers skills for all of the subjects they will teach

Why every preservice teacher should learn robotics

Learning to work with robotics can give elementary preservice teachers skills for all of the subjects they will teach

Preservice teachers greatly benefit from learning how to use and integrate innovative robotics to enhance their teaching skills. They are eager to engage in courses that use robotics to prepare them for their future classrooms. Teaching preservice teachers, I find that some of my favorite classes—and those most captivating and useful for my students—are the classes that include teaching with robotics.

Robotics are great for teaching topics such as coding and the engineering design process. However, when new teachers work on incorporating robotics in the classroom, they also practice important skills including differentiating instruction, tackling multiple standards in a single project, securing their own classroom funding, and more. Practice with robotics is essential preparation for teaching STEM subjects, but it can also offer lessons that are helpful far beyond the science and engineering topics.

Addressing Multiple Standards

Even in the best of times, most elementary teachers are stretched thin, with too much to teach and too little time to do it in. Elementary educators can’t teach robotics in isolation.  They simply don’t have time. They do have time, however, to teach robotics lessons that also address literacy, art, social studies, science, and math standards.

I often use a robot called KIBO to integrate coding into a variety of cross-curricular lessons. For example, students can build dragons out of craft paper, attach them to KIBO’s platform, and code the robot to dance as part of a celebration of the Chinese New Year. I’ve also had my preservice teachers decorate their robots as boats and then program them to follow the routes of famous explorers that creates a fun way to model teaching key social studies standards.

One of my favorite lessons combines life science and coding to answer the question “How do animals survive in the winter?” Students decorate their robots as winter animals, such as arctic foxes or polar bears. The class discusses what food and shelter their particular animal needs to survive a cold winter, then students create a model shelter using paper to make a dome where their “animal” can sleep. Then students create a sequence and program their robots to scoop up the model food they created out of paper and bring it to their shelter. I set a timer, with the idea that the animals need to bring food inside their domes within a certain amount of time before they “freeze.” Modeling lessons like this with preservice teachers shows preservice teachers how to add hands-on robotics to address the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for their future students.

Hands-on projects like these incorporate many different kinds of learning, so I always ask preservice teachers to look back whenever they’ve finished a project and identify the different standards and practices they used, which may include ISTE technology standards, science and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts, computational thinking, and disciplinary core ideas to name a few.

Demystifying STEM Teaching

One of my favorite reasons why working with preservice teachers and robotics is so important is that robotics make it so easy to model many best practices for the classroom. Modeling is an excellent teaching tactic, but it’s also a powerful tool for demystifying the teaching of STEM.

Preservice teachers decide to become teachers for a variety of reasons, but a desire to share a love of STEM topics is only at the top of the list for a few. In fact, many preservice teachers, especially those who want to teach elementary students, feel a great deal of anxiety about teaching STEM.

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