How Robotics Engages Students with STEM and Soft Skills

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This year, students in the Yew Chung International School of Beijing’s Robotics Club created a fully mobile aluminum robot from scratch. Nicknamed “Mr. Shakey,” a team of six students not only assembled the robot from aluminum frames and metal gears into a robust, load-bearing machine but also programmed the robot’s movements using two smartphones and the programming tools Android Studio. The result is a functioning remote-controlled robot that moves fluidly across a 2D plane.

Sat Arora, YCIS Beijing’s Secondary Technology Integrator and Head of this Robotics Club ASA, spoke with us about how building robots enhances student understanding of STEM and valuable core skills.

What are the steps that students took in order to create this functioning robot?4

The building process is a combination of maths, science, computing, and physics.

The first step was to design a robust frame capable of supporting the weight of the robot, taking the load off of the fragile battery and electronic parts. Once built, we then attached the wheels, including both normal and daisy wheels. We then assembled the motors. That was the hardest part; making sure the motor itself worked friction free with the attached gears was a big challenge for the team.

The final step was the programming. We used Android Studio to program the robot’s controls, which we did through two mobile phones. One phone is mounted directly on the robot while the other is attached to a gamepad. The two mobile phones communicate fluidly with one another using WiFi Direct.

What benefits does this process provide students?

A wide very wide variety. Besides the subject-specific skills from STEM, it enhances soft skills like:

Critical thinking3

There were several times during the process when the team would take two steps forward and three steps back! We’d assemble a part of the robot and realize that we could actually redesign and rebuild it in an even better way.

Therein lied the critical thinking: students were constantly evaluating their decisions, asking themselves, “Why are we moving this wheel?” or “Why are we changing the position for this motor?”

Creativity

Critical thinking and problem-solving led to creative, unforeseen ways of solving many of the problems the group faced.

Teamwork

Students worked together extensively to assemble the robot during the ASA sessions, sharing tools and discussing constantly the best way to move forward with the construction.

Any particular resources you can recommend for students interested in getting involved with robotics outside the classroom?2

There are a few channels on YouTube that are great for learning the basics of building and programming robots. In our Robotics CCA, we watched a number of First Tech Challenge (FTC) videos, which are a great starting point.

As mentioned, we used Android Studio to program our robots. Even if they don’t have access to building materials, kids can get familiar with this robot-programing language through a variety of resources online. While there are a number of languages choose from, we chose this one as it’s very similar to Java and relatively simple to use.

Learn more about science and technology at YCIS Beijing by visiting their website!

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