Why Teach Computer Science with Robots?
Hands-On Minds-On Learning
Educational Robots are the ideal tool for teaching Computer Science (CS). Robots allow for hands-on CS exploration, engaging a wide range of students with varying interests and abilities.
Teaching CS with robots provides an opportunity to ground abstract coding concepts, making them visible with the physical output of a robot.1 Coding with a robot enables students to more clearly see the connection between their code and the actions of the robot.2 Working with robots also allows students to apply CS concepts in authentic problem-solving scenarios, thereby teaching both CS concepts and the problem solving application.
Teaching with robots has been shown to engage more students and encourage broader participation.3 Working with robots attracts and inspires the imagination of students who may be unmotivated by conventional classroom curricula, and empowers students to learn actively by challenging them to complete tasks and solve problems with their robot.
Robots are Fun!
Kids enjoy robots and they attract students — motivating them to want to be involved and participate in their learning. Teaching with robots provides an opportunity for every student to be inspired by the excitement of hands-on, minds-on STEM learning, and the feeling of creating something with technology.
Real World Connections
Teaching with robots gives an authentic context to learn CS and provides an opportunity for students to apply CS concepts in genuine ways. As robots become more accessible with the technology advances available, more and more industries are using robots to be more efficient, cost-saving, and safe. Students and professionals alike are continually investigating ways to use computation and robotics to address real world environmental and societal challenges.
Integrating real world applications with robots, and highlighting how CS concepts and skills are being applied to solve these problems can improve attitudes and interest in CS and prepare students for further CS education and career paths. By familiarizing students with coding, sensors, and automation via robots, they hone critical computational thinking (CT) skills needed to address 21st century problems and provide the experience, skills, and vision to succeed in both the 21st century's workforce and everyday life.
Read the following resources with your students to see how robots are used to make improvements in the workplace and everyday life, as well as address regional and global challenges. Use the discussion prompts to facilitate a conversation on how CS with robots is being applied to solve challenges, and how pursuing CS can empower them to to be a part of the solution to real world problems!
Note: The linked resources are easily customizable to fit the needs and interests of your students. See these articles for directions on how to modify the resources on your device.
Bring STEM Concepts to Life
Robotics is a great way to teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in engaging ways where students apply concepts as they build, code, and test their robots. Students experience real-world integrated science, math, and cross-discipline problem-solving as they program their robot to complete tasks and solve challenges. See below for activities, videos, and discussion prompts that show how you can teach STEM with concepts with robots in dynamic ways.
Framing CS learning around current scientific topics and challenges is a great way to engage students and provide authentic learning. In many scientific fields, computational solutions and robots are being implemented to solve global challenges. For example, using unmanned robots in the ocean to perform tasks such as surveying marine life, mapping remote seafloor habitats, and removing trash from the ocean floor is a relatively new and innovative approach that looks very promising.
The VEXcode VR Coral Reef Cleanup Activity can be used as a way to explore the skills needed to program unmanned robots to clean the marine debris that exists on the ocean floor. Facilitate the Coral Reef Cleanup Activity with your students, as a fun and engaging way to explore a global challenge, while teaching CS fundamentals. Use the following prompts to get students thinking about the challenges of using unmanned robots in the ocean as you facilitate the activity.
How much trash did your robot collect? Did it leave things behind? Why?
What were some of the challenges to coding the robot to clean the ocean floor autonomously?
What does this experience show you about the feasibility of robots cleaning trash from the ocean?
Robotics is the perfect organizer for teaching students about technology, and for using technology to create high-impact learning experiences. Students can use robots to seek feedback that informs and improves their learning and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. Through robotics, students learn how to build, code, and test robot performance. They explore and build fluency in working with software and hardware systems, and practice documenting and communicating their process and test results with their peers. Helping our students become fluent with technology is an important step in helping them become leaders in the digital age, and robotics is an excellent way to engage our students in authentic and dynamic ways.
Once students have completed their Activity, have them remix a classmate’s project to see if they can complete the challenge in a different way, or shorter amount of time. This will give them a chance to build and test projects, while also emphasizing the importance of collaborating and communicating with others. They can also see how others may use different strategies to solve the same problem, which is an important part of CS and STEM learning.
As students work with physical robots, they have the opportunity to explore different engineering concepts with the build of their robots. In VEX IQ STEM Labs, students are guided to apply different engineering concepts to modify (or iterate) on their robot build. Watch one or more of these videos with your students to see how science and math concepts are applied in robot design and how robot design impacts performance.
Robots can be used to both teach math as well as provide an opportunity to apply math concepts in authentic ways that illustrate their value and allow students to see abstract concepts come to life. Applying math concepts while building their code allows students to create more efficient code and complete tasks or challenges more effectively. See the activities below for opportunities to learn and apply math concepts as students code virtual robots in VEXcode VR. See this article for more suggestions on how you can implement applied Math with VEXcode VR.
Explore the coordinate system by coding the VR Robot to drive to specific coordinates in the Coordinate Numbers Activity.
You can implement the following activities with VEX Virtual Skills, a virtual VIQC and VRC competition game environment. To get started with Virtual Skills, see this article for information on accessing VIQC Virtual Skills and this article for VRC Virtual Skills.
Use what you know about complementary and supplementary angles to plan your moves in this VIQC Virtual Skills Activity - complementary and supplementary angles.
Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate angles and distances for precise robot movement in this VRC Virtual Skills Activity - calculating angles and distances.
Competition-based learning with robotics is an effective way to engage students in learning CS, while encouraging them to apply math, physics, and other subjects through robotics.3 Competitions can motivate students to develop their CS and STEM competency by improving their programming skills, their robot build, and their strategy in order to improve their score.
Competitions also foster collaborative problem solving where students bring their skillset together with their team to cooperate in order to compete. Through competitions, students form authentic collaborations and take ownership of their learning as they design and build their own robots and prepare to compete. It is their robot and their game strategy.
Competitions can be implemented in the classroom, after school, or in informal learning environments to engage students and to organize CS and STEM instruction. See the VEX IQ Castle Crasher STEM Lab for an example of how you can use classroom competitions to organize CS instruction that can be applied in both formal and informal learning environments. This STEM Lab Unit culminates in a classroom competition (Lesson 5) where students apply what they have learned to get the best score in the Castle Crasher Competition. See this article for guidance on how to implement an IQ STEM Lab classroom competition.
Try organizing a competition around one of the following VEXcode VR Activities. Each of these activities includes a competition section to help you introduce the competition to your students. See this article for strategies for facilitating VEXcode VR competitions with your students.
Watch the videos at competition.vex.com to learn about the VEX IQ Challenge (VIQC) and VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) games. This annual international competition engages students from all over the world and has even made it into the Guinness World Records! If your students are excited, consider participating in the competition with physical robots, or compete virtually with VIQC and VRC Virtual Skills.
1 Liu, AS and Schunn, CD and Flot, J and Shoop, R (2013) The role of physicality in rich programming environments. Computer Science Education, 23 (4). 315 - 331. ISSN 0899-3408
2 Hamner, Emily, et al. “Robot Diaries: Broadening Participation in the Computer Science Pipeline through Social Technical Exploration.” Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
3 Altin, H., & Pedaste, M. (2013). Learning approaches to applying robotics in science education. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 12(3), 365–378