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When we think of robots, we think of giant machines that build cars and Hollywood creations too impossible to be real. Robots are in our everyday lives in many ways, from automatic pool cleaners to toys for kids. Today, educators are using robots and robotics to teach their students in novel ways. Robots are an engaging, hands-on way of teaching children important concepts like math and science. While the robots used in classrooms don't shoot lasers out of their eyes, they are quickly becoming a popular way to catch and keep a classroom's attention. Robotics can also be a fun stepping-stone for getting a child interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects that can lead to amazing careers later in life.
Math can be a very difficult subject for children, especially when it begins to expand outside of basic concepts. Today, learning centers and schools around the country are looking to robotics to help teach students both basic and advanced mathematics. Robots can provide an interactive means of teaching kids about math in context by taking the numbers off of the page and into real life. Students can see how simple math concepts like addition and subtraction as well as more advanced concepts like proportions affect how a robot responds to its environment. Students are also encouraged to teach their robots as a sign of concept mastery.
Science is at the heart of all robotics. It is the study of our universe, both physical and natural, and robots are helping us understand it better than ever before. NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, a robot designed for exploration, is sending back information about the planet that scientists on Earth would have been unable to collect otherwise. Building and working with robots has a lot to teach children closer to home. Learning how robots are powered can teach children scientific theories on electricity and solar power, or photovoltaics. Using robots to lift objects can strengthen a child's understanding of physics concepts like force and tension. Building a robot from scratch and seeing how different materials affect how their robot behaves teaches children the most fundamental aspects of science: observation and experimentation.
Computer programming and coding are probably the furthest things from the minds of children, but they are concepts that are becoming increasingly important. Computers are a large part of our daily lives, and their use continues to grow. Programming is an abstract concept that robotics makes understandable and approachable. Robots for children are designed to be simple, and this simplicity extends to programming. By building a robot, a child is exposed, perhaps for the first time, to how a code inputted into a computer affects the real world. Some robots are even specifically designed to increase the difficulty of their programming interface as the child becomes more comfortable with the concept by moving from simple visuals, like "press the picture of a dog barking to make the robot bark," to drag-and-drop commands and finally to programs designed to teach simple computer coding.
Though most people wouldn't look at a child building a castle out of building blocks and think that child is an engineer, the concept is there. Engineers build everything from cars to cities, and children can learn a great deal about the field of engineering through robotics. Helping a child to build a robot aids them in understanding concepts like design and function and gives them a fun, exciting reward for the lesson in the form of a robot. Building a robot teaches concepts like electrical engineering and mechanics.