We, Robots

by Fifth Grade teacher Ed Santella

Pike strives to help our students become critical and creative thinkers.  It says something to that effect right in the mission statement.  Many people would think that those are two separate processes.   However, there are plentiful examples of these two seemingly disparate skills being intricately and immutably intertwined throughout the grades and subject areas at Pike.  The one with which I am most familiar is the robotics unit at the end of fifth-grade science.  During our three month unit, the children will progress from learning how to build Lego robots with motors to designing their own robots to programming their robots to perform specific tasks.

We start simple:  create a robot that can move through a narrow opening, avoid running into an immobile obstacle and then exit through another narrow opening.  Through this challenge, the students learn how to build structurally sturdy machines (often by following step-by-step instructions) and how to use the EV3 programming language.  They also learn how to tease apart a “failure” in order to isolate the source.  In truth, failing is part of the process, and students quickly realize that it is not the end-of-the-world.  From there, through increasingly messy and ill-defined challenges, the students build robots of their own design and learn how to use a variety of sensors to help their creations interact with their environments.  As they progress in their understanding of the limitations and advantages of the equipment, they are given more and more chances to make their own design choices.   Creative problem-solving occurs constantly, and critical thinking goes into every decision and every revisit of those decisions.  The robots quickly evolve from seeming clones to wildly different contraptions. Rube Goldberg would be proud of some of these devices!

Finally, after completing a myriad of challenges (and some Battle Bot challenges), the students are ready for their final challenge.  They must design and program a prototype of a robot to help solve a real-world problem.  The problem is of their own choosing.  It can be a big problem (think rescuing beached whales) or it can be a small problem (think dust bunnies under the bed).  Whatever challenge they try to tackle, it is theirs and they work creatively and think critically to try to solve it.  Throughout the process, they learn about teamwork, perseverance, grit, communication and commitment.  Not everyone gets their robots to work perfectly, but they know that it’s only a minor setback.

For another perspective on robotics, you might enjoy Aaron Maurer’s article:  “The Top Five Unexpected Benefits of Robotics in the Classroom.”

The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership. To learn more about admission to The Pike School, visit our Admission page


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2 Comments on “We, Robots
  1. Thanks for sharing this inside view of the robotics unit. It is so exciting to see the students so engaged and thrilled about the work they are doing. You are a great guide to the students during this challenging process. Thank you.

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