Can Robots Improve Math Class?
Sphero, one of four robots included in new classroom kit from RobotLAB.
CREDIT: Leslie Meredith
One of the best ways to teach new math is through hands-on learning, which is easily done in the early grades using pegboards or a bucket of plastic bears. It's tougher when kids move on to abstract concepts like algebra and calculus. A company in San Francisco thinks it has a solution: drones in the classroom.
Today (Feb. 6) RobotsLAB launched kits for middle school and high school math and science teachers that contain flying copters, rovers and robotic arms. The idea is to inject some excitement into math classrooms that typically offer little more than dry textbooks and whiteboard lessons.
For instance, the kit includes the Sphero Robotic Ball , a baseball-size robot that can be controlled with a tablet as it moves across a smooth surface, changing colors. Learning software shows how to use the ball to demonstrate momentum, centripetal force, linear equations and probability.
Also in the kit is the Quadcopter, a flying drone that can be used to teach quadratic equations, gravity and acceleration.
It's no secret that America's students are struggling in math- and science-related subjects, referred to collectively as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In 2011, upon graduation, only 32 percent of all U.S. high schoolers were proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study. Yet 62 percent of American jobs over the next 10 years will require entry-level workers to be proficient in algebra, geometry and other STEM topics, leaving a big gap if education doesn't improve, Harvard said.
The good news for teachers is that they don't have to be a robotics expert to use the kit, which is called the BOX.
"You can open the BOX, turn on the preloaded tablet [computer] and within minutes explain quadratic equations with a Quadcopter,” University of Texas professor Peter Stone, head of the kit's teacher review team, said in a statement.
Each kit comes with four robots: AR.Drone the Quadcopter ; Sphero the Robotic Ball; ArmBot the Robotic Arm; and Mobot the Mobile Robot, a small rover. The kit also includes instructional videos, lesson plans and supplemental teaching materials. But don't expect to find boring pamphlets. A 10.1-inch Android tablet included in the kit is preloaded with apps instead of manuals. Each app is a separate lesson based on standard U.S. curriculum, including algebra, physics, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. The apps can be used to control the robots over a WiFi network.
The BOX costs $3,500 – not bad for a kit that can be shared between classrooms. It is available online from RobotsLAB and comes with 50 lessons, the four robots, a tablet and 12 accessories.