Why Learn Robotics?

Robots and technology in general are part of our everyday lives – from the simple vending machines that we buy snacks from to the robotic vacuums that navigate their way around our homes and the drones that provide aerial-view film coverage and deliver Amazon purchases. Signing your child up for a robotics class involves more than just some fun time to tinker with motors and computers (although it is that too) it helps to give them a better understanding of the world around them. Classes provide an engaging way for your child to learn about math, science, logic, engineering, coding and problem solving.

Robotics is a great interactive way to teach kids basic and more advanced mathematical concepts and to demonstrate how math applies to real life. “Math is everywhere in robotics,” says Scott Heifetz the director of Launch Math and Science Center in Manhattan, “from determining the angle that a servo (small motor) must rotate for completion of a task, to analyzing the output of a range of numbers from an infrared sensor that measures distance.” Understanding the application of math in the real world and its relevance is hugely motivating for kids, and he sees a direct correlation between the hands-on learning that might take place in a robotics class and increased math fluency.

At Launch Math, a typical class will involve one or two sessions devoted to the actual building of the robot from hardware components. This process gets the kids thinking like engineers and developing an understanding of concepts like design and function. Then, in subsequent sessions, the kids learn to program the “brain” of the robot. This is a great way of introducing kids to coding, which as a subject on its own can be too abstract, especially for younger kids. They may code the robot (or mBot, a programmable and educational robot for children) to do any number of things from playing soccer to navigating its way through a maze. Learning how to control a robot involves problem solving in the realms of science, engineering and technology and also developing an understanding of how these subjects link together. By seeing what can go wrong when programming a robot, kids learn the importance of precise instructions.

Launch also offers a class that uses something called a Hummingbird microcontroller. The Hummingbird is the programmable “brain” of the project and the kids learn to code it to drive the motors that create the motion. Instead of building a robot, kids have more creative latitude to make things such as an operating model of a Ferris Wheel or a toy crocodile that opens its mouth. According to Scott Heifetz, the Hummingbird program allows students to “join the technical side of robotics with their creative minds to build intricate, functioning, motorized machines.” Girls in particular enjoy this program due to its “open-ended structure and creativity.”

Technology is critical for innovation in our modern world, and robotics is a great way to get children interested in it. Robots and their applications in the real world are increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives. This makes an understanding of robotic principles valuable, while giving kids the opportunity to use math, science and engineering in a practical way.

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