Getting kids excited to take on science, math, technology, and engineering challenges is vital for fostering STEM skills. There’s no single method for generating this enthusiasm.
Some students respond best to the gamification of traditional lessons while others absorb concepts better when they’re outside of the classroom in a STEM camp or hackathon. This is why it pays to offer students as many learning engagement opportunities as possible. Among the more popular options today are kids’ robotics programs, competitions, and kits.
Robotic programs and activities for kids can be a good fit for many reasons. First, robots are fun and engaging for kids of all ages. Taking a hands-on approach to automated technology can be inspiring in a way that textbooks and testing simply aren’t.
Robot programs and projects can be catered to children at pre-school and kindergarten levels and continuously advanced. Utilizing simple and affordable components or kits means that even the tightest school-budgets can still make room for robots.
They are also readily accessible and adaptable to specific curriculums, multi-student classes and clubs, as well as individual students. But since robotic programs are a more recent approach to STEM education, knowing where to start isn’t always clear. To make this easier, a number of organizations and companies are developing educational aids, events, and robot kits designed especially for STEM development.
VEX Robots, FIRST LEGO Leagues, And More
VEX Robotics is now a familiar name in kids’ robotics. Managed by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation (RECF), VEX Robotics consists of a series of events and programs, including a competition that holds the Guinness World Record title of the world’s largest robotics competition.
Broken up into VEX V5, VEX IQ, and VEX AI, these leagues are open to different grades and skill levels. Although the challenges range in difficulty and complexity, participants must design, build, and operate a programmable robot, usually as part of a team.
League competitors who demonstrate a mastery of robotics skills will be able to compete in the annual VEX Robotics World Championship, which welcomes challengers from over thirty countries. Similar to VEX, FIRST LEGO League combines creative robot building, STEM skill development, and team collaboration to encourage students to take on robotics and programming challenges.
Since its development in 1998 by inventor and For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) founder Dean Kamen and The LEGO Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, FIRST LEGO has been running a series of events that encourage discovery, innovation, inclusion, and growth among elementary and middle students.
The international league is an extension of Lego Education, which creates building sets and other products that emphasize learning. Although they are some of the bigger names, VEX Robotics and FIRST LEGO are only two of a growing number of robotic programs for students.
Beyond international, national, and other large robot programs, parents and educators have many other options for teaching kids robotics and other STEM concepts. Some of these can be as simple as bringing robot kits into the classroom.
Bringing Robot Kits Into The Classroom
VEX Robotics kits and similar ready-to-build options have provided non-competitive entry points for teaching and learning technology principles. Robot kits provide simple, straightforward access to robot building, programming, and coding that’s hardly more complex than a traditional Lego set.
Teachers and parents can also utilize DIY robot building guides and plans. These plans will typically use one programable prototyping device and a series of low-cost hardware components, like casters, fasteners, and mounts.
Working from A DIY plan can be one of the more versatile and affordable options. Programmable electronic prototyping devices and open-source platform micro-controllers allow for a low-budget, user-friendly approach to robot building. These platforms can be used as a core control element for a myriad of robots and interactive electronic functions.
Costs for these programable components can be as low as 20 dollars. They can also be re-programmed and reused for multiple projects, including line-followers, pick-and-place bots, smart cleaners, quadcopters, and even soccer-playing robots.