As part of my major project, I wanted to spend some time exploring the Saskatchewan Robotics and Automation Curriculum. Although this is a high school curriculum, I thought it would be valuable to see how my students can continue using the skills learned in the middle years when they move to high school. In addition, I though it would be valuable to identify some important concepts and find way to incorporate this into the middle year. I believe that approaching coding and robotics as a continuum is far more valuable than random coding activities.
It appears that this curriculum was introduced to school divisions in the fall of 2019. According to a CBC article from September of 2019, “School divisions are responsible for determining what schools in their jurisdictions will offer these courses,” an email from the ministry said. “Divisions assess local needs and make programming decisions accordingly.” When I read that, I’m curious as to how often these programs are offered in our high schools across this province. In addition, do our schools have the necessary tools and resources to successfully offer these programs? Resources for robotics are not cheap and I worry they would not get the adequate funding to create a strong robotics program.
As I am an elementary school teacher, I do not know if these courses are offered regularly in our high schools. Please leave comment below if you can provide some insight on this question.
What is this course about?
The focus of this course is on design, construction, operation and use of autonomous and/or radio-controlled robotic devices. In addition, a focus is placed on the computer systems necessary for their control. Project based learning, design thinking, and inquiry learning are used to help students explore the processes and skills needed to design devices that they can control. Students can explore technology, automation, and robotics in this course. Lastly, computational thinking and coding skills will be developed to help them control their robotics or automated devices.
How should robotics and automation be taught?
The curriculum suggests two different course configurations for each grade level be developed; one with an autonomous focus and one that reflects a radio-controlled focus. An autonomous course would focus on the programming a robotic or autonomous device to perform pre-determined tasks. Some examples of this that are also used in elementary school include Ozobots or Edisons.
The second type of course they suggest is a radio-controlled focus. This is when the actions of a device are not pre-determined and need to be controlled by an operator. An example of this would be a robotics competition, where students control a robot to perform specific tasks. There was a group of high school students from the Trojans Robotics Team that traveled to Houston for a robotics competition.
The curriculum also allows teachers to create a course with a mixed focus of both components.
What are some key components of robotics and automation courses?
Computational Thinking: A broad set of problem-solving processes which provide a new entry points for new ways of thinking. Teachers should highlight the essentials of computational thinking, which include decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design.
Elegant Code: It needs to be simple and easy to understand. Developing an algorithm which simplifies code will make it more efficient. Writing elegant code involves carefully analyzing the problem and creating a balance between a minimal amount of code and the code being reusable.
Reusable Code: Teaching students how to find the bit of code they want and to interpret how to adapt it is a valuable part of learning to code.
Visual or Block Based Coding: Students that use visual coding environments have shown greater learning gains and higher level of interest in future computing courses. Students should also use text based editor as they are more similar to what professional programmers do. There is value in using both types of coding.
Design Thinking: This is a process for creative problem solving that uses human-centered approach to innovation. Design thinking is inherent to the project based nature of designing and actualizing a robot or device. This also empowers students as makers and creators who solve problems by using working devices.
In conclusion, I think there are many good reasons as to why there should be robotics and automation classes offered in all of our high schools. For one, many students will likely pursue a career in a technology field that will utilize the skills developed through this course. Whether it be computational thinking or text based coding, these skills will be very valuable more many students. This is the perfect time for them to prepare and develop the proper skills to be successful in the professional world. I have personally used the design thinking model in my classroom and had great success with it. This model allowed my students to identify real world problems and take the appropriate steps to address it. Through this model, it allowed my students to think about problems in a different way, collaborate with their peers, and create products to fix these problems.
I love forward to seeing this curriculum being offered more frequently in our high schools, as Dean mentioned on Twitter. As a middle years teacher, I plan to further develop my students skills to be successful in these programs.