STEM in Primary

STEM in Primary
A blog for those interested in primary school STEM education

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Teaching maths with robots

Stuff this week - How can Seymour Papert's ideas be used in teaching maths?

Last week I wrote about the extremely influential Seymour Papert. I want to write a little more about him as well as share an interesting perspective on maths education. What is interesting is how long these ideas have been around and yet they have failed to gain any widespread traction in transforming education. At least until now.
Seymour Papert worked and studied around the world; Cambridge, the University of Paris, the University of Geneva, the National Physical Laboratory in London and finally at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was while working at MIT that he produced the majority of his groundbreaking work.  MIT President L. Rafael Reif said about him:
“With a mind of extraordinary range and creativity, Seymour Papert helped revolutionize at least three fields, from the study of how children make sense of the world, to the development of artificial intelligence, to the rich intersection of technology and learning. The stamp he left on MIT is profound.”
As a mathematician Papert was particularly interested in how children learn maths and he developed the Logo programming language as he was concerned that “the computer [is] being used to program the child.” With Logo he presented an alternative approach in which “the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.”
An article in Edutopia had in part the following:
It is the learning of maths by doing that is the most natural. If we look back at history, mathematics started not as a beautiful, pure product of the abstract mind. It started as a way of thinking about controlling the waters of the Nile, building the Pyramids, sailing a ship. It started as mathematical thinking, and then, gradually, it got richer and richer.
In school, we reverse that process. We start off teaching pure math. Nothing is more pure in abstract mathematics than the stuff we teach in primary schools. And it has to be if you're going to have such a thing as the "mathematics classroom." Because as soon as you have this other thing, it doesn't fit into a "mathematics classroom" or "mathematics lesson." I think we have to reverse this order of things -- that the order in which we teach mathematics and science today starts with the most abstract, the most static, and you learn to do manipulation of numbers, then you learn to do algebra, then you learn to do calculus, and at last you can apply it to something real.
Using robots in the classroom to solve problems is a fantastic way to learn maths. Counting, measuring and geometry are all required to solve robotic problems (just as Papert did with his original Logo language). Forget the number line on the whiteboard in grade 1. Put the robot on the floor and allow children to explore how to move distances in two or more steps. Attach a pen to the robot and program it to draw two dimensional shapes. This is how children can see how math is used.
Lego saw the value in this in 1984 and started collaborating with Papert. The relationship grew into a close one and lasted over 30 years. Lego commercialised the work Papert was doing at MIT when it created its “Mindstorms” robotics kits in the 90s. The name was taken from Papert’s 1980 seminal book “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas”.
So much could be done in schools today to embrace Papert’s research. All we need is some forward thinkers and a push for changes in the classroom.

Stuff in the news

Want to be a better biologist? Better learn how to code. - An article from Wired Magazine 10 March 2017
Are we preparing our kids for the right jobs? - An article about the possible future job losses due to automation Market Watch 6 April 2017
Where Non-Techies Can Get With the Programming - An article from the New York Times 4 April 2017

Stuff to buy

Rigamajig - Rigamajig is a building kit conceived for hands-on free play and learning. It's a collection of wooden planks, wheels, pulleys, nuts, bolts and rope designed to engage the inquisitive mind and creative spirit of children.
*At this point in time I earn no money from any product I list and I am not affiliated with any other company.

Stuff in education

STEM education will carry our children in tomorrow's economy - An article from The Hill news website 4 April 
3 Steps to Becoming a Coding Teacher - An article from Edutopia 4 January 2016

Stuff to do Australia Wide

Young ICT Explorers -  A non-profit competition, which has been created by SAP to encourage school students to create their best Information and Communication Technology (ICT) related projects. Registrations are OPEN. See the YouTube video here!
Edutech 2017 - EduTECH is the LARGEST education event in Asia-Pac and the Southern Hemisphere. 7-9 June 2017 in Sydney.
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Young Engineers Australia - Provides an engaging, hands-on learning platform using LEGO® and K’nex® assembly kits
CoderDojo - A volunteer run programming club

Stuff to do in Brisbane

It's Rocket Science School Incursions - Educational and fully interactive project based rocket science incursions for primary and secondary schools in a safe and empowering learning environment.
Robotronica 2017 - Robotronica is a groundbreaking one-day event showcasing the latest developments in robotics and interactive design. QUT's The Cube 20 August 2017 
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Brisbane Library Service has purchased the very flash NAO Robot and is showing it off in various libraries.
The Cube at QUT has a number of changing programs. 
Brisbane Planetarium - Features entertaining and informative shows for adults and children
Flying Fox Studios - A studio offering programs in the arts, music and construction areas from babies to teenagers in Brisbane

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