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Teachers Are Finding Innovative Ways to Use Robots in Class

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While some teachers remain wary of bringing artificial intelligence and automatons into the classroom, others are taking robots beyond STEM classes and into lessons on language arts, social studies, and even art and music.

In her 6th grade classroom in Fairfax, Va., Lisa Rode uses robots built by her students to teach everything from space exploration to human anatomy. Her students investigate plot structure by programming robots to act out stories that they write, explore the United States by making their robots travel across maps of the country, and tackle integers by guiding the robots up and down number lines.

"Students gain a little bit more independence and flexibility in their thinking because it's things they're not used to doing," Rode said. "When we built our robots on the first day of school, the students had a lot of pride in their work—they're more motivated when they're using their robots."

Rode began learning about robotics and integrating them into her classroom about three years ago. She noted that while the learning curve is difficult at first, the end result is worth it. She has noticed that her students with special needs especially benefit from interacting with the robots.

"I've had students who have a hard time communicating their thoughts orally or in writing, but they can program their robot and explain what the robot is doing well," Rode said. "It gives them a different way to show their understanding."

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Classroom robotics is often seen as a way to help students develop 21st century skills like coding and engineering. In Education Week's new special report on schools and the future of work, reporters explored how educators should start preparing students for a future filled with automation and artificial intelligence. 

But robots can also strengthen students' soft skills, like problem-solving and teamwork. For some students, robotics define their school experience by making learning fun, interactive, and creative. 

On Twitter, teachers have shared the innovative ways they're using robotics to promote creativity and collaboration in the classroom. Some educators combine coding with language arts to map out sentences and stories:

Others put the 'A' in STEAM with their scientific takes on the arts:

And math teachers are using robots to take hands-on learning to another level:

If you're interested in learning more about how to use robots in the classroom, make sure to check out the online educator resources offered by companies like Lego, Sphero, Bee-Bot, and Wonder Workshop—each site provides lesson plans and curricula to guide your teaching. Rode uses GoPiGo robots, which are powered by Raspberry Pi programming devices. Those robots are made by Dexter Industries' education arm—see a video of Rode explaining more about how her students use GoPiGo robots in the classroom. 

Images courtesy of Lisa Rode

(Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated how long Lisa Rode has been using robotics in her classroom. She started learning about and integrating robotics in her class lessons about three years ago. This post has also been updated with the brand of robot Rode uses.) 

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