PITTSBURGH—Educators at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Academy say robotics could become an even more powerful teaching tool with curriculum they developed for the new version of LEGO Education's popular MINDSTORMS robot-building set.
The co-branded LEGO Education/Carnegie Mellon curriculum takes advantage of upgraded software and hardware, such as simplified programming and Bluetooth wireless capability, in the newly released MINDSTORMS Education NXT robotics set. The CD-ROM-based curriculum for middle- and high-school students is included in a MINDSTORMS Education product line launched Aug. 1.
Robin Shoop, director of the Robotics Academy, said the new lesson plans are designed as a series of explorations that require students to investigate problems and develop their own solutions.
"We give kids the opportunity to think of themselves as researchers," Shoop said. "We are trying to put the responsibility for learning on them by asking them to answer questions."
Shoop explained that students working with the new Carnegie Mellon curriculum are required to "do" math and science rather than study them. Using this methodology, students come to appreciate not only the importance of each concept, but also how they relate to each other in the real world.
Since 2002, the Robotics Academy, an outreach program within Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, has been a leader in the use of robotics as a teaching tool, including the development of curricula for previous versions of MINDSTORMS. The Robotics Academy sponsors robotics clubs, camps and competitions for students, develops robotic software and curricula, and provides robotics training for teachers.
Residuals from worldwide sales of the academy's new MINDSTORMS curriculum will help fund continued operation of the academy. Shoop says initial plans call for the curriculum to be translated into as many as nine languages.
For the new MINDSTORMS Education NXT project, the academy has collaborated with colleagues at Tufts University, LEGO Education and National Instruments of Austin, Texas, to develop tools that teach math and science through robotics.
"Succeeding in a creative society requires critical thinking, teamwork and communication skills that we know can be gained from robotics classes. We've seen how these classes motivate students to do better in school and go on to careers in science and engineering fields," said Jens Maibom, general manager of LEGO Education in Billund, Denmark. "The software and curricula provided by our partners are critical elements in that success, as it puts robotics into a real-world context and makes it much more than a toy."
Shoop noted that the Carnegie Mellon curriculum — the "Introduction to Mobile Robotics" and "Guided Research and Engineering" CDs — were developed using an iterative process with Pittsburgh-area schoolteachers. Teachers would periodically visit the academy, work with the robot kits and Carnegie Mellon-developed lesson, and provide feedback. Their suggestions would then be incorporated and assessed by the next group of teacher-testers.
"As a father of four and a public school teacher of 28 years, I've held this project near and dear to my heart," Shoop said. "The exponential growth of information has led to an overwhelming amount of things that students need to know, and we as educators need to do a better job of helping students make these cross-discipline connections, preparing them to leave school and move into the new economy. Research shows that students relate better to current examples of technology, such as robotics, than they do to historical examples, like Newton's apple. Kids want to know, 'Why do I need to know this and why is this important to me today?'
"It also helps that kids think robots are fun," Shoop added.
For more information about LEGO Education, visit www.LEGOeducation.com.
For a preview of the new Carnegie Mellon/LEGO curriculum, see www-education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/nxt/preview.
For more on the Robotics Academy, see www-education.rec.ri.cmu.edu