Teaching Robotics: Engaging, Hands-On Lesson Plan Ideas

Just a few decades ago, the idea of using robotics in everyday life seemed like science fiction — unrealistic and unachievable. Fast forward to today, and robots are already playing an important role in helping us learn about the world, work more efficiently and improve our quality of life. 

Whether it’s Alexa, Roomba or NASA’s Curiosity, robots are inextricably connected to how we live, learn, work and play. In schools, learning about robotics is important not only for helping students embrace STEAM skills, but also for preparing them to thrive in a future driven by robots. These lesson plan ideas for teaching robotics will give your students a hands-on approach to building and using robotics.

Introducing Students to Robots

Students must get familiar with robots before they elevate their learning to the next level. As pointed out in a lesson plan from the Edison robot by Microbric, an initial lesson plan can show students where all the sensors on the robot are and how they should be used. This is seen as a “get to know you” activity which helps the student become familiar with the robot and how it works. You might ask students to answer simple questions about the robot’s anatomy, such as where the start button is and how to plug the robot into the computer.

Lesson plans from BrainPop on robots introduces students to code in an interactive way. Through videos, quizzes and related reading, they can start to understand the importance of robots. When students know why robots are important in society and what they can be and are already used for, subsequent lessons on robotics will be that much more meaningful. It’s also worth noting that this video shows students how robots are used in the real world — from performing chores to exploring deep-sea ruins — which is critical for piquing students interest in any complex technology lesson.

Another introductory lesson can teach students about the concept and function of coding, which they’ll need during the robot-building process. Code.org offers a lesson plan where the class works together to identify the relationship between real world action and coding. Students will practice their team-building skills while working on translating algorithms into code, following instructions and using symbols as a guide. This also provides students an opportunity to work together to recognize bugs and create solutions. 

It’s an important activity because it “lays the groundwork for the programming that students will do throughout the course as they learn the importance of defining a clearly communicated algorithm,” according to the team at Code.org.

Students can also look at examples of NASA robots to understand their role in space exploration programs. 

At California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for example, teachers can find lesson plan ideas for teaching students about NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity Robot. The Mars Science Laboratory offers unparallelled information about the red planet, helping scientists advance their understanding of Mars and the greater solar system beyond. These lesson plans include interactive videos and games, and a curriculum of robotics topics. Topics include modeling solar system distances, building your own satellite, imagining Mars and discussing the idea of life and all the elements it requires.

Breadboards and Circuits

Students working with building robots should also be familiar with breadboards and circuits. Breadboards are what teach students how to connect wires to create secure connections. They’re especially helpful when connections need to be changed often, and they help students understand the role of circuitry in the job of an engineer. 

A lesson plan from Barnabas Robotics teaches students how breadboards work through videos and activities. It also shows how teachers can ensure student comprehension of breadboards through drawing boxes around the set of holes that are connected on a drawing, or by removing the adhesive from the back of the breadboard to expose strips of metal underneath. These hands-on approaches help solidify the function of the breadboard, ensuring students can articulate what they do.

Once students have a basic understanding of breadboards and how they work, they can move onto more advanced lessons like learning different ways to power the breadboard. For example, soldering barrel jacks onto wires is one more advanced lesson that requires intermediate soldering skills. Next, students can also try using a variety of power supplies, says the team at SparkFun Education

For example, some units require a wall adapter to plug into the breadboard, while others allow power to be pulled directly from the computer via a USB. Regardless, almost all breadboard power suppliers allow students to adjust their voltage and play around with the range of power needed when creating circuits for different uses.

Teaching robotics

Learning the Basics of Building Robots

After students have a strong understanding of how robots work, they can begin to start building them. The BlueBot lesson plan sequence from Science Buddies is a great way students can learn how to build robotics for different purposes. 

For example, the first lesson plan teaches students how to build a motion-activated guard robot that is controlled by a motion-activated sensor. Subsequent lessons include building a speedy light-tracking robot, a zippy line-following robot and an obstacle-avoiding robot. These autonomous projects introduce students to using a breadboard and working with circuits.

Another introductory robotics lesson is called “My Robot Friend” from educator Ann Gadzikowski, author of “Robotics for Young Children: STEM Activities and Simple Coding.” The lesson is designed so students can program a robot to move. It’s also intended to make students more articulate about robots and how they work. 

The lesson plan is based on the short story “My Friend” about a robot. In this team-building exercise, students will work in pairs to discuss ideas and act out dialogue from the book before building their own robot.

Teaching robotics

Join Robotics Communities

As robotics becomes a more popular and important aspect of education, there are more opportunities to create community in the robotics field. If your students are showing an interest in robots, you might decide to start a hobby group or after-school club where students can learn more about robotics and tackle more challenging real-world problems in the field. 

You could also enter students in a robotics competition, such as RoboCup or RoboGames, among others. You can use these to model a small scale robotics competition in your classroom that inspires your students to work together in teams to solve critical robotics issues. Tech writer Katie Horn points out that teachers can find lesson plan and classroom competition ideas by attending conferences or trade shows with robot enthusiasts. Robots for Roboticists is a great resource to find robotics events near you.

National Robotics Week provides another opportunity to get involved in local and national robotics communities. Organized by the iRobot Corporation each April, National Robotics Week brings together educators, students, scientists, engineers and leaders to celebrate the importance and potential of robotics. 

The event is designed to draw awareness to robotics as an innovative tool for transforming industries like healthcare, security and national defense. It’s also meant to bring awareness to robots as a tool for strengthening STEM learning and introducing new and exciting career options to students at a young age. There are numerous events and lesson plans that coincide with National Robotics Week, and it’s a great opportunity to get students excited about working with robots.

Images by: Cathy Yeulet/©123RF.com, Jozef Polc/©123RF.com, Goran Bogicevic/©123RF.com

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