Teaching 21st Century Skills with robotics

Our world is in a constant change. This does not only apply for external influences like the weather but also for the society that we live in. Many experts from the education sector, business leaders and governmental organizations coined an international movement which stands up for teaching children and young adults the required skills at school that they need to be successful these days. The so-called 21st century skills involve for example creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, media literacy, information literacy and problem solving.

Optimization of the curriculum

The generation of baby boomers that was born in the twenty years after World War II had very different job requirements than Millennials, which is the generation of kids that was born between the 1980s and the year 2000. For the baby boomers, consistency was the most important thing that they were looking for in a job. For example, in Germany it was usual to start a job after school or college graduation and to stay there until retirement. Millennials and the Generation Z on the other hand, have very different requirements for a job. They are looking for fulfillment and happiness at work. That is one of the reasons why young people change their jobs so often and why they need to be flexible. This development calls for many new skills that are not part of the curriculum yet.

Skills for a globalized world

Let us take a look back at a time some decades ago when it was enough to learn skills in the fields mathematics, reading and writing at school to survive in our society and at work. But today, in our globalized and digitalized world these skills are not enough. It starts with the obtaining of information about a certain topic. In the past, reading the daily newspaper was a good way to get a more or less objective news coverage. But it’s much more complicated nowadays. Thanks to fake news and a rising number of news websites on the internet, people need skills like media literacy and critical thinking to identify the objective news sources and categorize them.

Communication, collaboration, critical thinking & creativity

There are several abilities which are considered important 21st century skills by international education experts. But there are four core competencies that are most important to enable children to live a self-determined life in a modern world.

One of these common core standards is communication. Students should not only learn to speak different languages to communicate in a globalized world, they should also be sensitized to a receiver-related language. Another important aspect of this common core is the communication in digital media including social networks like Facebook and news websites.

Another common core of the 21st century skills is collaboration. Students should work together to find solutions for complex problems. In this case, teachers should retain themselves and let the students be more self-dependent while finding a solution with their classmates. The ability to work in a team is an important skill that applicants already need for many jobs today.

A third common core of the 21st century skills is critical thinking. Students should learn to question things to become responsible adults.

Another common core that should be supported is creativity. Only creative children will be able to create innovations and solve complex problems in our society. This does not mean that every student will grow up to be an artist or inventor. It’s more about finding creative solutions for any aspect of a job and any part of your life.

21st century skills: Robotics inside the classroom

Even though the approach of the 21st century skills has support from educational institutions all over the world, most countries and schools chose different ways to convey these skills. Many experts are focusing on robotics to teach children 21st century skills. The benefits of this approach are an enhanced creativity, the ability to collaborate, communicate and solve problems. Ahmad Khanlari from Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, has published an interesting study about the effects of robotics on 21st century skills where he describes the work with robots as an effective tool for conveying these skills.

Boost creativity through robotics at school

Experts highly recommend the use of robotics in classrooms to convey the most important 21st century skills to kids. For example, robotic building kits by Tinkerbots are boosting students’ creativity already at a young age. After defining what robotics really is and how it functions, children can unfold and build a robot after their imagination. It is up to them if they want to build a vehicle, an android or a machine for automation. For his paper “Effects of Robotics on 21st Century Skills”, Ahmad Khanlari has asked seven teachers for their experience with robotics at school. They say that they found two kinds or creativity among their students. First, the children developed innovative robots that did not exist before. In a second step, they found creative methods to recreate existing models.

Robotics & 21st century skills: Kids learn collaboration

Many parents are worried that playing video games or consuming other digital media could turn their children into solidary people. But studies show that children in a group prefer playing together and even share video games. It’s similar with robotics at school. Children could work on their projects alone and implement their ideas completely. But collaboration with other students is always more fun and brings better results. In a group, anyone can add his ideas and the children challenge each other to give their best. The study by Ahmad Khanlari supports this approach. One of the interviewed teachers stated that all his students are aware of the fact that they can build better robots in a team. Collaboration at robotics projects can help children to learn how to respect each other, being open for the ideas of others and flexibility.

Solving problems with robots

Problem-oriented learning is a substantial element of 21st century skills. Children should be able to solve problems independently. Working with robots is the perfect tool to convey these skills. If you want to build and program a robot, you need to identify potential problems and find an innovative solution. The built robots can be problem solvers, too. Eventually, all robots have a certain purpose like entertainment, nursing senior citizens or cleaning. So, when children build a robot at school they do not only learn to solve short-term problems concerning the act of building, but also to solve long-term problems which are the reason for building a robot in the first place.

Learning with robots

Children who start playing with robots at a young age do not only learn the most important 21st century skills. The play with a robotic building kit like Tinkerbots does also introduce them to basic principles of mechanics and sensor technology. Knowledge that children gain in a playful way and by themselves and that they can use later for STEM-topics at school. Robotic building kits does also boost the creativity of children. Tinkerbots extensions its compatibility with LEGO® allows them to build every robot they want.

As a conclusion, robotics is a great tool to teach kids the most important skill for the 21 century. Handling robots has a positive influence on their ability to solve problems, collaborate and communicate as well as their creativity and many others. The next step to implement robotics classes would be to develop a suitable conception for schools.

Leave a Reply