This checklist is for teachers investing in kits to teach robotics and coding in the classroom. It’s a follow-up to my previous posts where I listed some tips on how to pick robotics kits. Here’s a quick summary to check before making a choice.
Does the kit specify age or grade suitability?
How many students can use one kit?
Are teacher and student support materials provided?
Are the pieces age appropriate and durable for repeated use?
Are the parts powered by batteries and/or charged with USB cables?
Does the kit allow for creativity and open-ended challenges?
Is the robot programmable?
Is the coding software compatible with your device(s)?
Will the coding skills learned be transferable to subsequent programming curriculum?
Are there supportive online reviews or testimonials from teachers?
Robotics and Coding in the Classroom
The reasons for teaching robotics and coding in the classroom are practical and compelling. Students need to be prepared for the workplace of tomorrow with career readiness skills such as innovative and critical thinking, planning, problem solving, perseverance, and teamwork. They also need specific skills that will be in high demand in the future: facility with computer skills, logical reasoning, and a basic understanding of coding.
Integrating robotics into a STEM program with a fun, well designed, and affordable kit is a perfect start.
So, you want to invest in robotics kits for the classroom. Here are some observations we made while recently trying out some kits for a STEM program.
What’s the Intention?
To start, think about how you plan to use robotics kits for the classroom.
In what type of setting will you use the kit?
In a computer lab environment?
Learning center activity?
A robotics club?
Will it be used by multiple grade levels?
Does the kit lend itself to teamwork?
If students are working in small groups, is there a task for each student? For example, one child can control the parts, another reads instructions, a third can be the assembler, and a fourth could handle the programming.
Is the kit affordable? Consider how many students can work on a kit at one time, and how many kits your school can afford.
About Kit Components
Robotic kits for the classroom can be expensive. Consider the quality of the kit before you buy.
Flimsy or cheaply made parts will not stand up well in a classroom environment. Look for parts that are made of sturdy materials that can be used, taken apart, and used again many times.
Does the kit, or company, have good reviews? For example, LEGO is a reputable robotics manufacturer.
Is a warranty provided?
Can you easily purchase replacement parts if needed?
Does the kit require a power source?
If there are programmable controllers and motors, they may all require batteries. You will need to have a supply on hand or invest in rechargeable ones.
Some parts may need to be charged.
Does the kit come with adequate USB charging cables?
Allow time to charge! You may need to complete charging on a daily basis.
Don’t forget, if you opted for rechargeable batteries, these need charging too.
Age appropriateness is important. Look to see how parts fit together. Do they snap together easily? Do they require tools like a wrench and screwdriver? Are there mechanical parts like motors and sensors that may be too challenging for younger students?
Too many small parts are difficult to assemble for small hands.
Large kits may require several hours for complete assembly.
Smaller parts, motors, and gears may be more appropriate for senior students.
Are the parts easily disassembled? Can a model be taken apart quickly and easily to construct something new in a timely fashion? Will the parts last for several years?
Does the kit include any extra components?
A play map can teach coordinates and open-ended movement tasks.
Are additional add-on kits available to extend the usefulness of the base kit?
About the Storage Container
Some of the kits we looked at ranged from flimsy boxes and single use bags to hard plastic storage bins with dividers inside for parts. Consider how to store and track all the parts.
Ideally you want a storage container that has sections in it. You may find some that are shaped to the part so you can tell right away if something is missing. This makes it much easier to keep inventory.
A durable plastic bin with tight fitting lid is better than a cardboard box. The lid can double as a workspace area keeping the small parts from ending up on the floor. The lip, or rim, of the lid keeps everything contained.
If your kit comes with small parts that are in single use bags, this can be a nightmare once those bags are opened. You may need to replace them with resealable sandwich type bags.
Robotics Kits for the Classroom to be Continued
And there’s more to consider! In my next post, I’ll list some considerations about teacher and student support materials as well as the programming software.