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Employing Robots in Play-Based Learning for Engineering Education of Exceptional Students

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Robots have proved effective in support of play-based teaching activities, especially at the primary education level. Here, we introduce robots as a teaching-aid for exceptional students. We have developed a new curriculum for engineering education that caters to both mainstream and exceptional students. This curriculum includes eight units or instructional sessions, which range in content from the basic principles of mechanics to advanced control of intelligent robots. The curriculum emphasizes problem solving, engineering design, teamwork, and self-discipline. The LEGO NXT educational module is employed as the basic hardware and the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio provides an easy-to-learn graphical programming environment for children. Since exceptional students do not necessarily respond optimally to traditional teaching methods, alternatives need to be researched. Learning through play could prove an ideal approach for educating students with special needs. During play, students tend to concentrate better and exhibit more self-discipline since play is naturally interesting. Exceptional students potentially learn more from playing than from conventional teaching methods, due to their keen powers of observation. To validate the curriculum we developed, we organized an eight-week summer camp called Edison Robotic Camp. Of the eighteen students who attended, two had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), three with autism and one with a learning disability; the remaining thirteen students had not been diagnosed with any learning disorders. We divided students into six groups with each group having at most one student with special needs, and the other members randomly assigned. The teaching and observation team included an instructor, three teaching assistants, and a counseling psychologist. The observation team participated in the teaching activities to closely observe and record student behavior. Students were evaluated in three areas: learning performance, concentration, and interaction with partners. The psychologist interviewed the students’ parents, the instructor, and the teaching assistants before, during, and after the camp. It was discovered that learning performance was similar for exceptional and normal students. The level of concentration exhibited by exceptional students was acceptable for classroom activities, and special-needs students were able to complete most of the tasks. The only problems observed for the exceptional students were regarding communication and interaction with their team partners. The parents, the instructor, and the teaching assistants, however, reported noticeable improvements in the manners of the exceptional students. With such positive results, we see potential for broader application of play-based learning in engineering education for exceptional students.
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Employing Robots in Play-Based Learning for Engineering Education of Exceptional Students 1
C. H. TSENG1, S. C. KANG2 2
1 CAVE Education, No.165, Sec. 2, Zhonghua Rd., Zhongzheng Dist., Taipei 10068, Taiwan (R.O.C.) 3 E-mail: nissin@cavedu.com 4 2 Department of Civil Engineering, National Taiwan University, No. 1, Sec. 4, Roosevelt Road, Taipei, 5 10617 Taiwan(R.O.C.) E-mail: sckang@ntu.edu.tw 6
7
ABSTRACT 8
Robots have proved effective in support of play-based teaching activities, especially at the 9
primary education level. Here, we introduce robots as a teaching-aid for exceptional students. We have 10
developed a new curriculum for engineering education that caters to both mainstream and exceptional 11
students. This curriculum includes eight units or instructional sessions, which range in content from the 12
basic principles of mechanics to advanced control of intelligent robots. The curriculum emphasizes 13
problem solving, engineering design, teamwork, and self-discipline. The LEGO NXT educational 14
module is employed as the basic hardware and the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio provides an 15
easy-to-learn graphical programming environment for children. Since exceptional students do not 16
necessarily respond optimally to traditional teaching methods, alternatives need to be researched. 17
Learning through play could prove an ideal approach for educating students with special needs. During 18
play, students tend to concentrate better and exhibit more self-discipline since play is naturally 19
interesting. Exceptional students potentially learn more from playing than from conventional teaching 20
methods, due to their keen powers of observation. To validate the curriculum we developed, we 21
organized an eight-week summer camp called Edison Robotic Camp. Of the eighteen students who 22
attended, two had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), three with 23
autism and one with a learning disability; the remaining thirteen students had not been diagnosed with 24
any learning disorders. We divided students into six groups with each group having at most one student 25
with special needs, and the other members randomly assigned. The teaching and observation team 26
included an instructor, three teaching assistants, and a counseling psychologist. The observation team 27
participated in the teaching activities to closely observe and record student behavior. Students were 28
evaluated in three areas: learning performance, concentration, and interaction with partners. The 29
psychologist interviewed the students parents, the instructor, and the teaching assistants before, during, 30
and after the camp. It was discovered that learning performance was similar for exceptional and normal 31
students. The level of concentration exhibited by exceptional students was acceptable for classroom 32
activities, and special-needs students were able to complete most of the tasks. The only problems 33
observed for the exceptional students were regarding communication and interaction with their team 34
partners. The parents, the instructor, and the teaching assistants, however, reported noticeable 35
improvements in the manners of the exceptional students. With such positive results, we see potential 36
for broader application of play-based learning in engineering education for exceptional students. 37
38
39
KEYWORDS 40
learning-through-play; play-based learning; special-needs students; robotics; learning 41
performance; lego; engineering education 42
43
1. Introduction 44
Play-based learning, or learning through playing, can be considered a children’s version of Project 45
Based Learning, a teaching and learning model that emphasizes student-centered instruction by 46
assigning them projects [1]. A hands-on course in robotics is ideal for this: the children have to build a 47
robot or at least some kind of autonomous mechanism to achieve the goal. Whereas curiosity is 48
considered the inner motivation to learn, it is observed that children who have more experience in 49
particular technology topics are likely to be more curious about application or theories behind the 50
phenomena [2]. Wang [3] has also pointed out that teachers should encourage students to adapt new 51
methods, to develop the spirit of innovation in the process of proposing, articulating and answering 52
questions, Therefore the necessity to design suitable teaching materials for children plays a more 53
significant role. 54
Technology education not only provides students with hands-on activities to accelerate and make for 55
more complete learning, but it also combines theory with daily life. McRobbie, Stein, and Ginns [4] 56
suggest that science set in a technological setting is worth examining since technology is part of the 57
world lived in and experienced by students. For children, language is the way they describe their ideas, 58
and we have used these observations to guide us in extending the children’s learning [5]. 59
As is well known, Thomas Edison is one of the most famous inventors of modern times. However, 60
several biographies have indicated that he had a learning disability and attention-deficit hyperactivity 61
disorder (ADHD) symptoms, such as misspelling and difficulty in reading sentences. He was curious 62
about many things and he would conduct extraordinarily original experiments in alarmingly reckless 63
ways. For example, in an attempt to help hens incubate eggs, he burned down the barn. Incidents such 64
as this resulted in him being rejected by the school system. Fortunately, Edison’s mother had a clear 65
understanding of the ways that he liked to inquire, experiment and learn, and she provided him with an 66
appropriate learning environment through home schooling. By conducting various experiments in the 67
corner of the basement, Edison gradually developed his scientific skills and established the basis for his 68
future success. 69
There is a group of hidden "Edisons" in today's educational system. They are exceptional students 70
with a variety of disorders, but in spite of their challenges, their physical, sensory, and intellectual 71
performance may lie within the range of what is normal or even outstanding. They may feel frustrated 72
in school because of their learning disabilities, autism or ADHD symptoms. Most of them are weak in 73
learning language, communication ability and interpersonal interaction. On the other hand, some of 74
them may demonstrate outstanding ability in, for example, mathematical reasoning or spatial 75
manipulation. Several studies have indicated that out of every 10 autism patients, there may be one 76
who has Savant syndrome, and possesses extraordinary abilities [6]. However, they also manifested a 77
high degree of interest in the curriculum, good response to instruction and sound ability to concentrate 78
on operations, to complete an excellent piece of work which related well to the intended learning 79
outcomes [7]. The Edison Camp was conceived with the intention of providing an instructional 80
environment that would help exceptional students develop their superior ability and provide them with 81
experiences which would improve their chances for success in their early years of learning. 82
2. Methodology 83
Technological applications are proliferating at an exponential rate in the modern world, and the 84
development of effective processes for learning about technology deserves serious attention and 85
inquiry. In the traditional educational environment, educators typically focus heavily on theoretical 86
learning and on developing the ability to perform standard operational procedures. They typically focus 87
far less on developing sound engineering thinking and innovative ways to promote learning. And in an 88
effort to make science popular and accessible, science educators often present demonstrations which 89
are intended to engender a sense of fun in the students, rather than to make a serious scientific point or 90
to promote sound scientific inquiry. The Edison Robotic Camp was designed with the intention to add 91
some balance to this situation. A significant instructional tool used at the camp were the Mindstorms 92
NXT robot modules, produced by the LEGO Company. Robot modules with the intention that the 93
children might use their creativity to assemble a variety of robots by themselves and develop a 94
first-hand understanding of the function of motors and sensors. Children were given the task of 95
building their own robots and controlling them by using the Visual Programming Language of 96
Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio platform. By engaging in these activities, children had the 97
opportunity to learn basic programming logic and skills to control hardware [8]. By competing against 98
each other with their robots in class, children were given the opportunity to modify their robots 99
repeatedly to make them more competitive. Through the process of modification and improvement of 100
their robots, the children had the opportunity to improve their knowledge of how to engage in problem 101
solving and how to think as an engineer [9, 10]. 102
The target group for the Edison Robotic Camp comprised normal students and exceptional students 103
[11]. Among the exceptional group, there were students with high-functioning autism, ADHD and 104
learning disabilities [12]. The forum for the learning experiences was the Edison Robotic Camp, which 105
was held from July to August, 2009, in connection with the science class of Agape Community Center, 106
Wenshan District in Taipei City. 107
The primary goal of the camp was to formulate an effective and normal, non-separated education 108
environment for exceptional students. One of the steps taken to achieve this goal was to invite several 109
special education practitioners to propose a range of appropriate and effective learning strategies for 110
exceptional students. Out of these discussions emerged the decision to hold a robotic camp within the 111
context of an inclusive education methodology, for this approach would both enhance the chances for 112
exceptional students to utilize their special learning talents and to establish new social relationships. 113
The camp designers expected that the children would extend their interests in learning science through 114
working with robot technology and would improve their understanding of science and their thinking 115
ability. And, with hands-on assembly of robots, it was expected that children would improve their 116
hand-eye coordination. It was anticipated that by having the children work with a number of resources, 117
the camp designers would be able to identify the resources and robotic activities that proved most 118
appropriate and effective and subsequently make them available to the wider school community. 119
Unlike conventional robot camps, this camp was designed with hands-on robotic activities that were 120
intended to provide opportunities for exceptional students to develop their interpersonal relationships, 121
their teamwork skills, and their emotional management ability. The main benefits that the authors, as 122
course designers, intended to provide for the children were: 123
(1) Children would extend their understanding of the principles of how to design robots and use 124
components such as motors and sensors to complete assigned tasks. To this end, all students 125
were expected to apply what they had learned and go on to create an automated robot within a 126
time limit. 127
(2) Through teamwork, exceptional students would improve and extend their interpersonal 128
relationships, improve their initiative to communicate with others and learn how to get along 129
with people. They would improve their social skills in the areas of courtesy, patience, division of 130
labor and compliance with team rules. It was also intended that normal students would learn how 131
to interact with exceptional students, accept exceptional students within their social network, and 132
learn to appreciate different sorts of talents which exceptional students possessed. 133
(3) Every student would undertake assigned work and achieve an intended goal as a common group. 134
In light of the dearth of teaching materials for exceptional students and training programs for special 135
teachers in the current education system, two of the main objectives of the Edison Robotic Camp were 136
to develop a set of teaching materials utilizing robotic design and construction, and to develop a series 137
of lessons which would provide appropriate and effective learning experiences that teachers might use 138
in teaching exceptional students. Finally, the programs and materials developed for this camp have 139
been presented on a public website so that anyone who has an interest in promoting robotics education 140
and teaching exceptional students can have ready access to the results. The main components of the 141
Edison Robotic Camp were as follows: 142
Materials: Eight instructional sessions of robot camp were comprehensively designed for elementary 143
students. The sessions were intended to teach students a variety of technological applications and 144
scientific principles through study of a series of topics on robotics. The content of the instructional 145
sessions included a series of topics that ranged from basic motor control and sensor reading to higher 146
applications such as simulation of animal behavior and movement. 147
Course website: The official website of the robot camp, the "Edison Robotic website," was established 148
after the robotics camp was conducted so that anyone with an interest in teaching children with special 149
needs and robotics education can easily access and download relevant files and information. 150
Seminal materials and guidance for teaching exceptional students: One of the primary intentions of 151
the Edison Robotic Camp has been to encourage more educators to realize the value and potential of 152
engaging their students in robotics education. As incentive to educators to investigate and utilize 153
robotics education in their instructional programs, all teaching materials have been made available free 154
of charge, including programming code, steps in robot assembly and related resources. To gain access, 155
users are only requested to submit their profiles to the website. 156
Links to formal school education: The General Guidelines of Grades 1-9 Curriculum for Elementary 157
and Junior High School Education, clearly state that science and technology can be usefully organized 158
into eight key learning areas [13]. These are: 159
(1) process skills: skills in undertaking the process of sound scientific inquiry; 160
(2) science and technology knowledge: understand key concepts and propositions in science and 161
technology; 162
(3) the nature of science and technology: understand that science is a set of verifiable propositions 163
about what exists and that technology is a set of propositions about effective operations, 164
procedures and actions; 165
(4) technology development: understand the processes of scientific invention and technological 166
development; 167
(5) scientific approach: understand the process of seeking to establish warranted assertions with 168
necessary and sufficient evidence and possess the scientific attitude of being open to exploring 169
new things, seeking out evidence and developing a sense of appreciation for the beauty and 170
elegance of scientific inquiry; 171
(6) thinking: understand and use the kind of thinking required to conduct scientific inquiry and 172
rational, evidence-based problem-solving; 173
(7) scientific applications: develop the ability to apply scientific knowledge and evidence-based 174
inquiry in formulating solutions to problems; 175
(8) design and production: the ability to use one’s creativity and work as a group to create 176
technological products. 177
3. Edison Robotic Camp 178
From July to August of 2009, over a period of 8 weeks, a team of researchers and educators held a 179
robotics education camp called the Edison Robotic Camp. The camp was organized as follows: 180
Subjects: Student participants in the camp included both special needs students and students with the 181
normal range of social skills and intellectual abilities. There were a total of five exceptional students. 182
These were in the third to sixth grades, and they included students with high-functioning autism, 183
Asperger syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and generalized learning disabilities. 184
Students within the normal group were also in the third to sixth grade. The students were mixed so that 185
the ratio of special needs students to normal students was about 1:3. The total number of students was 186
eighteen. 187
Time and place: From July 4 to August 22, 2009, students met every Saturday afternoon at Wenshan 188
District, Taipei City Agape Community Center, to participate in the Edison Robotic Camp. Each course 189
was 90 minutes in length. 190
Teaching methods: A single class of the Edison Robotic Camp could be divided into four sections: 191
(1) introduction of todays topic; 192
(2) description of important concepts; 193
(3) hands-on: assembling robots and programming; 194
(4) display or competition. 195
The introduction was intended to present the theme of the lesson to the students, the connection 196
of the theme to modern day life and the particular robotic functions to be studied. The key concepts of 197
each lesson were explained so that the students might understand which parts were needed for the 198
construction of a robot and what set of programmed instructions might be required to make the robot 199
function. In the actual operations part of the lesson, lecturers supervised and guided student team 200
members in the assembly of the robots and the design of the set of instructions to be included in the 201
control program for the robot. The final phase of the lesson consisted of either a display or a 202
competition. Students either demonstrated how their robot functioned or held competitions which 203
pitted the performance of one robot against another. 204
Staff: The staff consisted of one lecturer and four assistants. In addition, the exceptional students might 205
sometimes receive support from their parents if necessary. 206
The development and use of teaching aids: The instructional team was committed to producing 207
teaching approaches and materials which had practical applications for the advancement of effective 208
teaching practices in robotics education [14, 15]. Use was made of work undertaken at a number of 209
universities in the area of robotics education [16, 17]. Some instructional materials were translated into 210
Chinese and modified to make them culturally familiar to the students. These were supplemented with 211
two texts used in university robotic education courses: “Intelligent Robot Program Development and 212
Implementation” (in publication) and “Microsoft Robotics Studio Application Development,” which is 213
a new generation platform for the development of super-intelligent robots. Some of the instructional 214
materials came from the work of the Computer Aided Engineering Group robot research team in Civil 215
Engineering at National Taiwan University. The team had developed a results-based instructional 216
program with the intention of producing simplified teaching materials appropriate for primary and 217
secondary school children. 218
219
Fig. 1a, 1b. Photos at Edison Robotic Camp a) lecture b) competition 220
221
LEGO Mindstorms NXT Intelligent Bricks: An important teaching aid used in the Edison Robotic 222
Camp were LEGO Mindstorms NXT, developed and distributed by the LEGO company. They consist 223
of a set of robot components that can be used to construct robots that have light, touch, ultrasonic and 224
sound sensors. The components can also be used to construct robots with three types of motion driven 225
by an electric motor. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT provides students with all the basic building blocks 226
for construction of robots. Students can play and experiment with the Mindstorms NXT components, 227
create robots of their own design, assemble them quickly and try them out to see whether the robots 228
will perform as the designers had intended. Countless designs are possible. For example, Figure 2 229
depicts a project requiring a student to design a robot that detects and reacts to the brightness of a light 230
source. 231
232
Fig. 2. Robot with the ability to detect light 233
Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 Express Edition: Another important teaching aid used in 234
the camp was the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (MSRDS). This is a platform for developing 235
instructional sets or programs to control robot functions. The platform is flexible enough for use by 236
students of different age, ability, and expertise. The platform is especially useful for quickly developing 237
multi-threading and multi-tasking functions in service-oriented robots. The Visual Programming 238
Language (VPL) is an especially valuable feature of the MSRDS (See Figure 3). 239
240
Fig. 3. MSRDS VPL graphical programming environment 241
MSRDS was launched in 2006, and upgrades have continued to be released since then. In the latest 242
edition (MSRDS 2008), the platform includes a set of LEGO NXT robot sensors and the output of all 243
units of the control component. Learners can use MSRDS to carry out design and construction of all 244
types of LEGO machines, even including machines which simulate human motor behavior. The 245
platform provides for an easy, intuitive procedure for compiling and editing a robotic control program. 246
Students can use an intuitive approach with MSRDS and take advantage of the program to design 247
LEGO robots that are capable of autonomous responses. This feature greatly enhances the learner's 248
interest, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the learning experience. 249
4. Main Results 250
To determine the effectiveness of the Edison robotics camp course, a psychological counselor was 251
employed to conduct interviews before, during, and after the course. The counselor also observed 252
student participation in the course. It was discovered that the Edison Robotic Camp had a number of 253
positive, beneficial outcomes: 254
Emphasis on hands-on: The instructional process required a great deal of hands-on assembly of 255
robots and subsequent testing and evaluation of the functionality of the robots. This ongoing focus on 256
hands-on experience greatly enhanced the interest and involvement of the students. They would often 257
have to assemble, disassemble, redesign, and reassemble their robots to get the results they wanted. 258
This process gave them valuable practice in systematic design, testing and evaluation, and kept them 259
involved and enthusiastic about the learning experience 260
Extensive preparation: The instructional approach taken at the camp reaffirmed the proposition that 261
sound, effective teaching requires thorough and well thought out preparation. The necessity for 262
thorough preparation applied to all aspects of instruction. The MSRDS was examined by the instructors 263
so that it could be explained and made accessible to third, fourth and fifth grade students. The hardware 264
was constantly tested to ensure it was ready and workable for the students in class. The components for 265
the construction for robots had to be gathered and organized so that students could readily find and 266
assemble them. 267
Classroom order: Experience with the robotics camp reaffirmed the proposition that a sound learning 268
environment requires sound social order, fair and clear rules for acceptable conduct and standard 269
routines and procedures for efficiency of transactions in the classroom. During the initial instructional 270
sessions at the camp, students were permitted to roam and interact freely. By the fifth lesson, it became 271
apparent that more stringent discipline and clear rules needed to be put in place in order to assure a 272
well-ordered and constructive learning environment. The decision was made to institute a system of 273
rewards for desired behavior, cooperation, responsible conduct, and achievement of intended learning 274
outcomes. Students were rewarded to encourage them to progress towards short-term goals. They were 275
rewarded for raising a hand to seek permission to speak and for successfully achieving steps in the 276
building of their robots. A system of punishments for undesired behavior was also established. For 277
example, for constantly bickering and arguing, students were required to stand quietly in a corner or 278
corridor away from the other students so that they would have time to reflect on the consequences of 279
their choices and behavior. 280
Curriculum objectives, teaching content and clarity of instructional structure: The camp 281
reaffirmed the importance of clear, well-structured presentation of concepts with practical work at each 282
step. Teachers found that they were most effective in helping their students learn when they presented 283
concepts, propositions, and procedures in a well-structured, systematic manner, accompanied by a set 284
of physical models that exemplified and demonstrated the operation the students were intended to 285
perform. This approach proved to be especially effective for students with challenges in verbal 286
communication. They found it easier to learn by seeing examples and by physically constructing 287
examples, rather than by listening to explanations. The cooperative goal structure of the instruction 288
proved to be especially successful. In each instructional session, students were guided in the process of 289
establishing a set of goals and working cooperatively in teams to achieve these goals. Thereby, they 290
established a social environment in which it became the norm to work together as a well-coordinated 291
team towards a mutually accepted goal. 292
Teamwork: The robotics camp affirmed that cooperation, communication, and mutual respect can be 293
engendered through teamwork and division of labor directed at achieving mutual goals. The 294
instructional sessions at the robotics camp were based on organizing the 18 students into small groups 295
and having each small group perform a task that contributed a step towards the larger, more complex 296
task of completion of a robot. A single robot required a lot of steps to construct and combinations of 297
different components. A division of labor in completion of a set of complex tasks makes the overall 298
process more efficient. It also encourages cooperation, teamwork, communication and mutual respect. 299
A system of rewards and penalties were put into place at the camp so that a small group, which 300
performed in a positive manner socially and achieved intended learning outcomes, received a group 301
award card. It was group reward for a group achievement. At each stage of design and assembly of a 302
robot, the smaller groups were given the opportunity to explain and discuss their ideas and decisions 303
with the other groups. In this way, they came to learn from each other, appreciate different points of 304
view, approaches to problem solving, and discovered ways of improving their original designs and 305
constructions. 306
Handle conflicts immediately: It was discovered that the robotics camp provided invaluable 307
experience in dealing with conflict and in learning how to resolve conflict constructively. Exceptional 308
students face some special challenges in maintaining emotional control and achieving emotional 309
resilience. In an interpersonal conflict, they can be alarmingly volatile. During the camp, there were 310
many instances of disputes and heated discussions. These incidents provided opportunities for the 311
teachers to give assistance and guidance to students in how to deal with conflict constructively. 312
Teachers would encourage students to listen to other points of view, to identify what the issues in the 313
conflict were, and to seek solutions that satisfied both parties. Time was set aside after the heated 314
moments of the initial conflict so that students could communicate with each other calmly and come to 315
understand why the conflict arose and what solutions might be appropriate for its resolution. These 316
periods of discussion, reflection, airing of views and formulating possible solutions provided occasions 317
for the students to further their emotional and social development. 318
Collaboration of instructor and assistants: At the robotics camp, it was instructor’s responsibility to 319
organize the instructional sessions, to lead and guide the students in their education, to maintain an 320
appropriate pace in the instructional process, and to assess and evaluate the degree to which students 321
achieved the intended learning outcomes. The four teaching assistants provided practical assistance to 322
students to ensure that each group of students achieved the intended learning outcomes within the 323
allocated time so that they would be ready for the next step in the learning program. Teaching 324
assistants used a wide repertoire of teaching methods. Body language was an especially valuable skill 325
in addressing students with special needs who found challenges with verbal communication. Teaching 326
assistants not only provided personalized tutoring to the students, but were also invaluable in 327
maintaining standards of appropriate classroom behavior. 328
Course content is able to boost motivation to learn: The robotics camp reaffirmed 6the proposition 329
that when students have an interest in the subject matter, they throw themselves into the learning 330
activities with enthusiasm and learn quickly and extensively. In addition, a high degree of student 331
interest in the course content contributes positively to a high degree of good behavior and to the 332
maintenance of order in the classroom. In the case of the robotics camp, if a student became unruly or 333
behaved inappropriately, he lost the privilege to operate the robots. Because they were very fond of 334
manipulating the robots, students suffered enormous disappointment if they lost the privilege of 335
playing with them. The high degree of interest that the students displayed in the robot-building tasks 336
demonstrated conclusively that the learning materials were appropriately designed for engendering 337
motivation to learn and willingness to participate in the learning tasks. From observations and 338
interviews, it became clear that both students and parents took enormous enjoyment in the design and 339
construction of the robots. They loved handling and assembling the robotic components and trying out 340
the robots to see, hear and feel what the robots could do. The performance of the robots gave 341
immediate feedback so that the students could generate ideas about how to improve and extend the 342
function of the robots. The activities of designing and constructing robots turned learning into play. 343
Learning through play dissipated tension and anxiety in the classroom setting. Teachers and students 344
become more relaxed with each other and got to see each other in a different light. Although the camp 345
lasted for only eight weeks, the instructional sessions laid the basis for further learning and developing 346
long-term interests in science and technology. The camp experience conclusively demonstrated that 347
curriculum can be designed which integrates principles of mechanical engineering and theoretical 348
physics, and which, at the same time, fosters creative thinking. The evolution of motivation and 349
enthusiasm could be observed as the camp progressed. In the beginning, some of the students did not 350
exhibit much of an interest in robotic design and construction, but, as the course progressed, it became 351
obvious that all the students developed an enormous enthusiasm for playing with robots and for 352
designing, constructing and testing their robots. Their motivation soared. 353
The instructional aims for the camp were formulated to encourage students to extend their learning 354
beyond the immediate tasks of designing, constructing, and testing robots. An important part of the 355
courses’ aim was that students enhance and extend their general problem-solving abilities. It is 356
important for engineering students to develop such abilities because the engineering work typically 357
entails formulating solutions to problems that have not previously been encountered. 358
5. Assessment of the Impact of the Experience on Student Learning 359
A psychological counselor was employed to conduct observations throughout the duration of the 360
camp. The counselor also undertook interviews with students, parents, and lecturers before, during, and 361
after the camp. The observations and interviews were analyzed in the following terms: 362
(1) the overall effectiveness of the camp for helping the students achieve the intended learning 363
outcomes; 364
(2) the effectiveness of the camp for enhancing learning by the special needs students; 365
(3) the appropriateness of the curriculum content. 366
From the analysis, it became apparent that a number of recommendations were warranted. 367
5.1 Overall effectiveness for all participants 368
Creativity and interest in learning. With the materials and components available at the camp, it 369
was possible for students to create robots with as many as 200 different kinds of functions, so the 370
materials permitted the students to give full rein to their creativity and imagination. The wide 371
range of choice could also have been confusing to the students and perhaps made it difficult for 372
them to pursue a single in-depth interest. Guidance from the teacher was important because it 373
provided focus for those students who might have merely got lost in play activity and not pursued 374
any intended learning outcomes. 375
The overall ability to think. One of the primary intentions of the robotics course was to 376
encourage students to develop their overall ability to think, analyze, and solve problems. The role 377
of the teacher in the robotics course was to provide guidance and focus for the students in their 378
problem-solving activities. Students were typically not given direct help in hands-on assembly of 379
robots, but were asked to consider alternative solutions and design strategies and to anticipate the 380
possible consequences of their choice of design and construction. In this way, students generated 381
their own solutions through making their own choice and following their hunches about what 382
might work to achieve the intended outcomes. 383
Teamwork. The instructional sessions were designed to require cooperation and teamwork. 384
Individual team members were required to take turns in the process of assembling the robot. 385
Teammates sometimes became restless waiting for their turn, but they also came to recognize that 386
they did not have to restrict their role to simply waiting and could help their teammates. 387
Sometimes the help was more of a hindrance than assistance, but even this turned into a learning 388
situation for the team members. They learned ways in which they could speed the assembly 389
process along, such as finding and making available the parts needed in the next step of assembly. 390
Patience. The instructional sessions were designed to help students recognize the need for and to 391
exercise patience. The components for the robots had to be recognized, located, and sorted prior 392
to assembly. A challenge for many of the students was to recognize the needed parts. Many of the 393
LEGO parts are very similar, and it can be a very frustrating experience trying to find a particular 394
part needed for a robotic design. A system of prize cards was implemented by the teacher to 395
reward teams and individuals who displayed the necessary levels of patience and persistence in 396
get the job done. The system proved very successful in shaping student behavior and they 397
demonstrated progressively higher levels of patience. 398
Responsibility. The instructional sessions were designed to foster a sense of responsibility in 399
each of the students. Each group of LEGO blocks was numbered and each student team was 400
assigned its own set of building blocks. Team members were charged with the responsibility of 401
locating the needed blocks during each session, looking after them carefully, and returning them 402
to their correct storage bins at the end of each session. Through this system, team members 403
experienced the consequences of handling the materials carelessly, and of failing to return them to 404
their correct storage containers. Students came to understand that misplaced and damaged 405
materials resulted in delays or even abandonment of robotic constructions. Responsibility was 406
built into the instructional program as a necessary factor in individual and team success in design 407
and construction of the robots. 408
Motivation to learn. The instructional sessions were designed with the model of a “play school” 409
in mind. It was intended that students engage in playing with the robots and achieve concomitant 410
learning of engineering and scientific principles along the way, as well as extend general 411
problem-solving skills. The evidence demonstrated conclusively that students felt a high degree of 412
interest and motivation in the opportunity to play with robots and to design, assemble, test and 413
compete with the robots they had made. 414
5.2 Effectiveness on exceptional students learning performance: 415
High-functioning autism (A, B, C children): Autistic children in the A” category already 416
manifest high motivation, and they take the initiative to learn new things. Children in the B” 417
category do not start with high motivation, but with some guidance and encouragement can 418
eventually take the initiative to learn and also to participate with teammates who, in their view, 419
are doing a good thing. Students with autism stubbornly focus on their areas of interest, which 420
sometimes can be very narrow. Children in the B” category may start coping with a situation, for 421
example, by hiding under a table, getting their bearings, selecting something that matches their 422
interest, then perhaps, gradually extending communication with their parents. With appropriate 423
environment and encouragement, “B” children can achieve significant improvement in their 424
learning. In comparison, children in the C” category are typically emotionally closed. They do 425
not easily connect and communicate with peers or adults. On the other hand, the robots fascinated 426
the “C” children in the robotics camp and they exhibited a high degrees of motivation to handle, 427
assemble and operate the robots, and also a high degree of concern about winning or losing in the 428
robot competitions. Overall, participation in the robotics camp improved the social and 429
communication skills of all of the autistic children. 430
Learning disabilities (D children): Children in the D” category manifest dysfunctional 431
behavior, which impedes their learning. Typically their behavior is not disruptive, but they exhibit 432
abnormal passivity and a slow pace of physical movement, mental activity and learning, with a 433
low rate of retention. One of the “D” children in the robotics camp initially expressed very little in 434
the way of emotion or thoughts while engaging in robotic design and assembly. However, he 435
gradually assumed a leadership position within his team. He expressed very little in the way of 436
what he was thinking or how he was feeling. When asked what made the robot which his team 437
had built so competitive, he responded that the “center of gravity was stable.” This was clear 438
evidence that he had learnt some fundamentally important engineering and scientific principles. 439
He also expressed his respect for his mother and he acknowledged the contributions of his 440
teammates in the construction of their robot. 441
Hyperactivity disorder (E children): Children in the “E” category are volatile and unpredictable 442
in their behavior, and they typically engage in disruptive behavior. It is common practice to calm 443
these children with a regimen of medication. The “E” child in the robotics camp displayed 444
typically erratic and disruptive behavior, but he also expressed his liking for the hands-on 445
experience of constructing and operating robots. He reported moments of frustration with the 446
robot building process, especially with the practice of giving each team member a turn at 447
assembling the robots. He found that waiting for his turn was boring, but he also acknowledged 448
that he understood why taking turns was fair. 449
5.3 Course Content: 450
Eight robotics courses were developed for the Edison Robotic Camp and the topics and content 451
of the instructional sessions provided are listed in Table 1. The purpose of the topics and content 452
was to give students the opportunity to learn about a variety of technological applications and 453
scientific principles, such as basic motor control, types of sensors and simulation of higher 454
intelligence behavior. Furthermore, as shown is Figure 4a - 4c, all teaching materials were 455
presented in a colorful layout in order to boost the students’ motivation to learn. 456
Table 1. Course outline of the Edison Robotic Camp 457
Topic
Date
Content
Skills to learn
Sound
controlled
7 / 4
Voice control of robots: Take a big
breath and shout “Come on!” to make
Motor
Robot
a robot move forward
Sound sensor
Wandering
car
7 / 11
Make a robot that can take you to
anyplace you want to go
Control of dual-motor robot with
backward and turning movement
Nodding
cutie
7 / 18
Baby robot which will always be
obedient, nod obediently and be a
good listening companion
Ultrasonic sensors
DoReMi
7 / 25
Use NXT to make wonderful music
PlayTone Directive
Drummer
8 / 1
Let a robot pick up the drumsticks to
play drums
Drum Hammer
Rhythm Design
Guitar-bot
8 / 8
Think about it, why have different
strings on the guitar now?
Elastic rubber band used with motor to
adjust sounds to different frequencies
Magic fans
8 / 15
The brighter the sun, the faster the fan
turns
Using light brightness value to control
motor speed
Sumo match
8 / 22
One-Sumo Tournament to see who is
today's big winner
Contest
458
459
Fig. 4a, 4b, 4c. Sample pages of Drummer. 460
461
5.4 Recommendations: 462
From experience with the robotic education camp, it became clear that a number of 463
improvements could be made for subsequent camps and similar instructional programs: 464
Longer instructional sessions: Sessions of 90 minutes proved to be too short. In some sessions, 465
some teams did not complete assembly and testing of their robot. Teams were always rushed. It 466
would improve the program to have two-hour sessions. The extra 30 minutes would allow 467
sufficient time to complete the robots, try them out, and arrange competitions between the robots. 468
Step by step instruction: The student teams, especially the younger students, found it quite 469
challenging to assemble the robots. Assembly of some of the robotic components required fine 470
motor coordination, exact placement of parts, exact tensioning of connections and exact 471
positioning of angles for the components. With experience, students learned to become more 472
skilled and adept at the assembly process, but initial efforts require careful supervision, guidance 473
and demonstration. 474
Adequate training for teachers and teaching assistants: Some students progressed very slowly 475
and needed an assistant to guide and advise them about assembling steps to take, mistakes to 476
avoid or corrected and adjustments to make. The demands on the time of teachers and teaching 477
assistants were enormous, and some students tended to be neglected. In addition, it required a 478
great deal of professional judgment to draw the line between advising the students and doing the 479
assembly work for the students. The younger, less experienced teaching assistants sometimes 480
crossed the line and did some of the assembly work. This, of course, undermined the intention of 481
the instructional program for students to develop their own solutions for the problems. It was 482
discovered that three hours of training for the younger, inexperienced teaching assistants was not 483
sufficient to develop an adequate sensitivity to and expertise in dealing with exceptional students. 484
A more extensive training program for the teaching assistants, combined with practical work with 485
exceptional students, is certainly indicated. 486
Seminal work in teacher training: The instructional programs and materials produced for the 487
Edison Robotic Camp constitute seminal work relevant to teacher education courses and, 488
therefore, details of the robotics education course have been made available through a website. 489
Anyone with an interest in working with exceptional students will find the site useful. In addition, 490
the website is useful to any teacher with an interest in using the construction of robots as a fun 491
means for helping students learn scientific and engineering principles, to enhance their 492
problem-solving skills, and develop their communication and teamwork skills. 493
Simplify the teaching steps: In general, the instructional sessions at Edison Robotic Camp were 494
too rushed and too complicated. It was required of the students that in a few short hours of 495
instruction they would master an understanding of a number of difficult concepts and propositions. 496
The program was overly ambitious. There really was not sufficient time for students to develop 497
deep and extensive understanding of engineering and scientific principles. This challenge can be 498
addressed in future programs by simplifying the tasks and moving at a slower instructional pace. 499
Exceptional students in conflict with other people: Dealing with exceptional students will 500
always be challenging and Edison Robotics Camp was no exception. The exceptional students did 501
not communicate clearly, angered quickly, and sometimes reacted with physical force to 502
situations and people they did not like, understand, or accept. Integration of exceptional students 503
with a community of normal students is possible, but it takes appropriate training of instructional 504
staff and appropriate procedures in place to make the integration operate properly. 505
Classroom rules and incentive systems: It became apparent during Edison Robotic Camp that 506
there was a need for clear classroom rules, a system of rewards for desired behavior and a system 507
of consequences and punishment for disruptive and undesired behavior. It also quickly became 508
clear that there needed to be a consistent and continuous application of the rules, rewards and 509
punishments. Any additional camps or instructional programs, from the first day, need to 510
incorporate such rules and systems in the day-to-day running of the program. 511
Appropriateness and accessibility of notes: At the camp, some of the notes provided for the 512
students proved inadequate. Some of the characters were too small for the younger students to 513
read, and some of the terms used were too difficult for the students to master. In future programs, 514
the abilities of the students need to analyzed and taken into account in the preparation of materials 515
such as study notes and instructional notes. 516
Simplification of the course content: In the Edison Robotic Camp, the instructional sessions 517
were designed to provide an introduction. The purpose of this was to help the students identify the 518
parts that they needed to assemble their robots. A recommended improvement is that after 519
identification of the parts, students should be given guided practice in finding the needed part 520
among the many parts held in inventory. In addition, it is recommended that simple assembly 521
tasks be given early in the course and that more difficult software programming exercises be 522
reserved for later sessions. 523
Improvement of communication: Experience at the robotic camp made it apparent that clear 524
communication is an essential element of the instructional and learning processes. In dealing with 525
special needs, teachers and assistants need to make their expectations clear. It is especially 526
important to encourage and reward students when they display respect, cooperation, sharing and 527
positive interactions among the peers. 528
6. Conclusions and future developments 529
The present study has emphasized two important aspects of the educational process: (1) the 530
application of play based learning on science education programs and (2) the implementation of 531
educational programs for special needs students within the context of an inclusive, mainstream class. 532
(1) The application of play based learning on science education programs: The use of a series of 533
projects which required designing, constructing and testing robots proved an extremely popular 534
and motivating program for elementary students, including both mainstream, normal ability 535
students and special needs students. Several intended outcomes were simultaneously achieved: 536
students had fun and regarded the instructional sessions as play sessions; they learned a number 537
of valuable scientific and engineering concepts and principles; they extended their general 538
problem-solving skills; and they developed their teamwork skills, including communication, goal 539
setting, cooperation, mutual support, sharing and taking turns. An added benefit of the Edison 540
Robotic Camp was the development of an instructional program and teaching materials, which 541
teachers not associated with the camp may now reproduce and use without charge. 542
(2) The implementation of inclusive education for exceptional students: The Edison Robotic 543
Camp has proven valuable as an example of how to conduct an instructional program which 544
integrates special needs students with normal mainstream students in the same classroom. The 545
design, assembly and operation of working robots captured the attention and interest of all 546
students within the Edison group. They worked successfully in teams and cooperated with each 547
other to achieve mutually-held group goals. There was significant achievement in participating in 548
good quality social interaction among all of the students in the Edison camp. 549
550
7. Notes 551
To encourage more educators into the field of robotics education, the Edison Robotic Camp team 552
will post course materials, photos, and video on the Edison Robotics web site 553
(http://edison-camp.caece.net). There will be free downloads to users of the site who provide the 554
requested professional information. The free downloads will include instructional materials, software 555
programming code, robot assembly instructions and related resources. At present, a dozen or more 556
schools are accessing the site. Their staff is using the site to develop their talents to apply the material 557
to their own classroom teaching. By 2010, it is expected that more than 50 educational institutions will 558
be using the materials and methods developed at the Edison Robotic Camp. 559
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619
620
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http://www.cavedu.com. 625
Shih-Chung Jessy Kang is an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at NTU. 626
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629
Figures 630
Fig. 1a, 1b. Photos of activities at Edison Robotic Camp 631
Fig. 2. Robot with the ability to detect light 632
Fig. 3. MSRDS VPL graphical programming environment 633
Fig. 4a, 4b, 4c. Sample pages of Drummer. 634
Tables 635
Table 1. Course outline of the Edison Robotic Camp 636
637
638
[18-20] 639
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C. H. Tseng, A Study of Developing the Technological Curiosity Inventory and Its 563 Application to LEGO Hands-on Learning, Graduate School of Toy and Game 564 design, Toy and Game Design, National Taipei University of Education, Taipei, 565
Engineering with LEGO bricks and ROBOLAB
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E. Wang, Engineering with LEGO bricks and ROBOLAB, University of Nevada, 567 USA, 2004. 568 4.