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Bringing Robotics to Greater Moncton

March 5, 2024

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Bringing Robotics to Greater Moncton

During my PhD studies, I was a part of a research project investigating Ontario teachers’ use of robotics in schools. One of the school boards had high ‘buy-in’ from their teachers and it seemed that it stemmed from a Professional Development Day where teachers attended a local college and had a full day of hands-on opportunities to play with and code the robots. This really got me thinking about the concept of play and how it can reduce our feelings of inadequacy in learning something new. I thought this was something that I could do with BEd students, so I decided to start my own robotics club at Crandall. The idea behind it was to come play with the robots and have discussions about how to use them in teaching grades K-8 students. After this learning time, I wanted to take our Robotics Club members into schools to teach coding and robotics to elementary school students. I particularly wanted to concentrate on visiting schools in low-socioeconomic areas. I was raised by a single-mother and elementary school teacher who taught in the low-income areas of my home city. She felt that this was where God wanted her to be and she dedicated her teaching career to these families. In my research, I specialize in family engagement with schooling and children’s use of technology with a focus on socioeconomic status.

We have three different types of robots. We start in the Fall term playing with, building, and coding robots. Our BEd students who are Robotics Club members build different obstacle courses that we code the robots to move through. This is a challenge that takes a lot of trouble-shooting and collaboration. We emphasize the importance of teamwork in learning these new skills. All of our robots have lesson plans available online, so we take a look at these and make plans for how we want to teach children in schools. We then schedule visits to schools and our club members take turns teaching at the schools with support from Dr. Diandra Singh and myself.

In most of the classrooms we have visited, it has been the students’ first time working with robots. So, introducing coding and robotics to them is a benefit to them and the teacher. Coding and robotics is often so different from what students are used to doing in the day-to-day workings of the classroom, so for some students they can participate in a different way. In one class, there was a boy with Down’s Syndrome and his teacher wasn’t sure how engaged he would be in our activities. He was so interested in the robot and would follow it through the maze we had set up. It was such a beautiful experience! In another instance, we were cautioned that one boy might have outbursts in the class. He was engaged throughout the entire session, and even more so than some of his other classmates. Interestingly, this confirmed some of my previous research where we found that some students who do not shine in traditional classroom activities can often shine when digital technology is used as a learning tool. For teachers, we have seen two benefits. First, even though they remain in the classroom, our visit does serve to give them a bit of a break. One teacher noted how she is so often involved in classroom management and teaching that our visit gave her the opportunity to stand back and watch her students have fun and learn while other people led the class. Second, our visits serve as an introduction to robotics and teachers often plan to follow up with either implementing coding and robotics themselves or connecting with the district to continue this learning within their class.

The Robotics Club emphasizes New Brunswick’s Global Competencies (e.g., collaboration, innovation, communication, problem solving, etc.), which acknowledges the 21st Century skills needed in today’s workplaces. Essentially, coding is another language, and it is our hope that Robotics Club members learn the language, how to provide the “language” to the robots, and how they can introduce students to these skills in a way that makes sense to them. We hope our Robotics Club members will use what they learn in the club in their future classrooms. It is also our desire to mentor our members in their time here at Crandall. We hope they know we are here for them in supporting their present and future teaching, and here to support their lives in general as they work towards their personal and educational goals. For me personally, being a former elementary school teacher (grades 3-8), having the opportunity to go into the schools and classrooms has been a joy. It’s like returning to a former home! Working with students and seeing them have fun with the robots and interact with us has been so wonderful. Also, in some cases, we have visited the classrooms of former BEd students and seeing them in their teaching element and thriving has been an amazing bonus.

I started the Robotics Club in the fall of 2021 with four BEd students who were members for the first year. In 2022, Dr. Diandra Singh joined Crandall and the club was a natural fit for her, having grown up in one of the roughest neighbourhoods in Toronto’s east end. She joined the team and that year we had four members, visited two schools, led five robotics classes, and, thanks to Dr. Singh, partnered with a homeschool co-op program and led four more classes with their students, seeing 45 students total. In the 2023 to 2024 academic year, our numbers grew! We had a total of seven students as regular members of our club, visited four schools, ten classrooms, and led four sessions with the homeschool co-op group, seeing 150 students in total. Watching this club grow has been extremely meaningful, and I am eager to see what our members are able to accomplish as we move forward!

Written by Dr. Cathlene Hillier, Assistant Professor of Education

Crandall University is Atlantic Canada’s leading Liberal Arts University rooted in the Christian Faith, offering degree programs in Arts, Science, Business Administration, Education, and Management. To learn more, visit crandallu.ca or call 1‑888-968-6228.

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