Beginning my fourth year as a Robotics teacher at Pickerington Ridgeview STEM Junior High, one of the major skills I focus on building in my students is collaboration. Being able to work well with others to accomplish a shared goal is a skill that will not only help students in their educational career but for the rest of their lives. This is not just an academic skill, but rather a life skill. Life skills are the base that academic skills are built on.
In their groups, students are given a real-life problem to solve by building and programming a solution. These problem-based challenges are purposefully open-ended so that there are numerous ways to solve. Three strategies that have proved successful with this type of group work learning environment:
- Groups of 2-3 students is ideal. 2 students per group is best, 3 works well, and 4 students is too many. With 4 in a group, there is more of an opportunity for students to be off task and not focused on the challenge.
- Purposefully select the groups. There are 4 different types of grouping I incorporate:
- Homogenous Groups: Higher Level Learners with other Higher Level Learners, Medium Level Learners with other Medium Level Learners, and Lower Level Learners with other Lower Level Learners
- Heterogeneous Mixed Groups: High Level Learner with a Medium and/or Lower Level Learner
- Completely Random: Have a random computer generator select the group members
- Student Choice: Students get to choose their group members
- The ability for groups to work at their own speed. As students solve one challenge, they are able to move onto the next challenge, whether other groups are done or not. For some groups, this allows them the more time they need to solve the problem at hand. And for others it allows them to move onto the next problem to solve without having to wait on others.
To further build collaboration, the next level of group work evolves from groups of students working independent of each other to all the groups working together for a united cause. A challenge is proposed to the whole class and each group of students is in charge of a different piece of the solution. These different components will be combined together to solve the proposed problem.
For example, one challenge I propose to students is to build a life-size moving robot. The class is split up into 7 different groups. Six of the groups are in charge of building and programming the different body parts (head, chest, right/left legs, right/left arms). And one group of all higher-level learners is called the “Troubleshooters Group”. This group fills the teacher role and is in charge of combining the different body parts together, communicating with the different groups to make sure that are able to fit together (i.e.: the head isn’t too big for the chest, the right leg is not longer than the left leg. etc.), and helping the different groups with any issues that arise. Another similar project is the Amusement Park Challenge where students have to design, build and program a different amusement park ride and then combine them together to create a class Amusement Park! The majority of the challenges in my Robotics 2 class are designed this way.
Looking ahead, I see the next level of building collaboration being where students are in charge of determining the different roles/jobs for each group instead of me pre-determining them. Rather than me breaking up the challenge into different jobs for the different groups to complete, the students would be in charge of this. They will be given a challenge and then have to figure out how to split up the project into different components. And then once the roles have been determined, each group will be given a job to complete. Once completed, these different components will be combined together to solve the problem that I presented the students with.
For example, I would tell the students that they have one week to build a life-size robot that can move forwards and backwards, opens and closes its hands, and shows two different facial expressions. And with this, students have to figure out how to break down the robot so that each group is in charge of a different element of the robot.
The final level of building collaboration being where students identify and articulate their own problems and challenges for the whole class to solve. Once the problem has been identified, students break the challenge down into different jobs for each group to complete. And once completed, these different parts will be combined together to solve the problem at hand. This is service learning- students are identifying problems in their communities and then designing and creating a solution.
Ross L. Hartley
Pickerington Ridgeview STEM Junior High
Automation and Robotics