It isn’t often that you see a group of Kindergarten students learning alongside a grade twelve Robotics class. But that’s exactly what happened recently, as students in Stephanie Robinson’s Kindergarten class at King Christian School in Newmarket travelled by bus to spend the day learning about Robotics with David Robinson’s grade twelve Engineering Block students at Toronto District Christian High School.
It was the second year that the Engineering Block students partnered together with a Kindergarten class to share the skills they’ve developed around building and programming skills using the new Lego EV3 kits.
“All I had to say was ‘field trip’ and the excitement began!” shared Ms. Robinson. “When I first told my Kindergarten class about the trip, many of them had sparkling eyes and big smiles. Some of them were hesitant and a little nervous about going to the ‘big high school’, so I told them that the older students were ‘friendly giants’, and that the class was looking forward to meeting them.”
To help the younger class prepare for the event, the high school students wrote letters, welcoming them and telling a few things about themselves that they thought the Kindergarten students could relate to. They built excitement by telling the students that they needed to choose a Lego mini-figurine to take along with them when they came.
“We had no idea if it would work the first time we tried it,” admitted Mr. Robinson, “but the nice thing about TD Christian is that the culture here allows for exploration and failure. Without trying, there is no growth.” The high school students spent some prep time learning about child development, and together they planned a series of simple lessons on how to build and visually program a Lego robot.
“Lego is an excellent tool for developing fine motor skills and for creating new things with our imaginations,” Ms. Robinson shared. “In my classroom, I have Imagination Stations set up—places to explore with all kinds of materials to create all sorts of wonderful things—and Lego is always a student favorite. So it was clear to me that connecting a computer to the already-familiar Lego blocks, with the additional bonus of working with older students to create a robot that could move, was a fantastic way to enrich the learning experience for my Kindergarten students.”
After some quick introductions, the Kindergarten students were invited to add their own features to a basic Lego robotics frame that the high school students had prepared for them. Starting with the Lego mini-figure they had brought along, they began to add extra structural parts and sensors. Next, the younger students “graduated” to programming commands that involved moving, sensing their environment, and responding to those senses. Basic programming concepts like “ifs” and “loops” were also introduced.
“The Kindergarten students were shy at first, but when they saw that I was also friendly, they really loved it,” shared TD Christian student Tommy Otesile. “We sang nursery rhymes that helped them understand the programs better because they were quite complex. They loved the touch sensor and called it the ‘high fiver’.”
Evalina, a student in Ms. Robinson’s Kindergarten class, commented, “I liked learning that the robots move by the computer and can get stronger by the computer.”
Once the students had finished learning the basic programming concepts, they were challenged to build and program their robot to explore a large section of the classroom and to knock down obstacles and opponents, while avoiding danger areas and keeping their Lego mini-figure safe.
Juliette, another Kindergarten student, said, “I learned that you can control the robots and the eyes will show where they are supposed to go.”
“My favorite part was putting a voice on the robot,” she continued. “We made it bark and roar like a lion and it made a sound like an elephant.”
Along with learning how to teach basic robotics principles to students that were over a decade younger than them, the grade 12 students from TD Christian discovered other challenges throughout the day that they had to overcome.
“It was challenging to not rush or push the students too much, but to let them explore and experiment with different programming,” recounted grade 12 student Luke Versteeg.
Luke’s classmate Shane Versteeg agreed. “Staying patient and moving at their learning pace was difficult at times,” he said. “You had to work at keeping their attention and trying to keep it exciting for them.”
Despite these challenges, the rewards made their efforts more than worthwhile. “It was such a highlight to see how excited the younger kids got when they discovered how to make a robot move on its own using the programming that they learned from us!” Luke expressed.
Kindergarten student Annalise added, “It was most fun to learn how to build robots, learning how to program it and test it—and I liked getting lots of points!”
According to Ms. Robinson, the day was a highly valuable one for her Kindergarten students. “The high school students did a great job of engaging my students in building and creating robots,” she said. “My students worked diligently and enjoyed the fruits of their labor.”
She also observed what it was like for the students from both grades to have to work through challenges and disappointments together. “They found out that what they did didn’t always work out the way that they wanted it to, and that they needed to modify their efforts in order to increase their level of success in the competition with the other robots.”
Five-year-old Nathan could attest to this. “I learned that if you put helicopter blades on a robot, it might not actually fly,” he shared.
Evalina also hit a roadblock along the way. “We couldn’t make our robot stronger like I wanted because it would flip over sometimes.”
For Ms. Robinson, it was a highlight to watch the older students cultivate an atmosphere where problems could be solved, risks could be taken, and relationships across generations could be built and combined within this amazing learning opportunity. “Any time you add another person to a child’s life, it deepens their understanding of the variety and beauty of God’s creation.”
The experience was one that students in both grades were grateful for. “It was an amazing experience,” shared Luke. “It gave us a chance to improve our teaching skills, as we had to figure out different ways to teach a part of the grade twelve curriculum to students who are still learning to read.”
Engineering teacher Mr. Robinson believes that his students have been given many gifts, and that they have a responsibility to pay it forward. “If we can convince a generation of five-year-olds that robots are cool and for everyone, we may have inspired dozens of future engineers to change the world!” he expressed.
“There’s something beautiful about watching those just starting education intersecting with young adults who are about to start post secondary learning” Mr. Robinson concluded. “It’s a privilege to get to see the class of 2016 join the class of 2028 in preparing to engage the future.”