LEGO robotics in STEM education
Today’s political leaders and educators are deeply aware of the ongoing need for programs to advance education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A continuous stream of newspaper and magazine articles describe one-of-a-kind special programs designed to attract students. Unfortunately, many of these programs require a fairly high level of academic preparation in advance. Their success has the unfortunate consequence of widening the gap that leaves many students behind.
I’m thinking of girls, various minority groups, and one group that I am especially aware of is students in the Pacific Islands, in particular those in the “US Affiliated Countries under the Compact of Free Association” such as Guam, Samoa, the Mariana Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap.
The key to bringing these students into the mainstream of today’s technological society is to recognize the importance of experiential versus academic learning. A hands-on approach is required that involves students in actually doing things.
One wonderfully simple approach that meets these requirements is the LEGO robot. This system provides scores of interesting projects at an elementary level where no tools or written instructions are required. It is, none-the-less, capable of breathtakingly complex and sophisticated projects. The computer programs that direct the autonomous behavior of the robots are pictorial not literal and easily learned. All the programming can be done by clicking on little graphic icons.
Using LEGO robots, it is possible to bring STEM learning activities to student groups that would otherwise be culturally or economically excluded. The robots provide an entry level experience that can motivate other higher level academic pursuits.