Turning on the Quadcopter

Boy, there must be a better way to teach math and science!

GUEST COLUMN | by Elad Inbar

CREDIT RobotsLABVictoria is a 10th grader at a school in Austin Independent Schools in Texas. Some of her fellow students have already had babies, which they bring with them to the in-school daycare. Math is not one of the strengths of this school. Actually, last year only 12 percent of this school’s graduates were considered proficient in math (not shocking news for those familiar with the national statistics; only 32% of U.S. graduates last year were proficient in mathematics).

The students didn’t show any interest in the explanations, and it seemed like any other low-attention Algebra class.

Victoria didn’t know what to expect in her Algebra class on a cold December morning last year. When she entered the room, it was clear that something wasn’t as usual. In the middle of the U-shaped tables where the teacher usually stood rested a quadcopter, a helicopter with four rotors.

“Now what is THAT?” she asked her teacher while chewing a huge piece of pink gum.

“Sit down and you’ll see,” said the teacher.

As the lesson started, the teacher explained to the students that today they are going to learn quadratic equations in a whole new way, using the robot that was on the floor. Meanwhile, most of the students remained skeptical, continuing to zone out on their smartphone games and other non-class related toys.

The teacher explained to them that today’s lesson involved the quadcopter as a tool that can demonstrate the quadratic relationship between the height of the quadcopter and the area that its bottom camera can capture.

“The higher the quad copter, the larger the area that the camera can see,” she explained, “and if you think about it, the image area is actually edge times edge, or edge squared. Hence, the quadratic relationship.”

The students didn’t show any interest in the explanations, and it seemed like any other low-attention Algebra class.

That all changed when the teacher turned on the quadcopter.

It immediately took off and hovered in the middle of the classroom. Everyone’s eyes were locked on the robot as it floated with little movement, as if by magic.

The teacher got the attention of the class.

CREDIT RobotsLAB quadcopter

Then, while controlling the robot, sending it up high to 7 feet, and down to 5 inches, she repeated the explanation about the quadratic relationship while demonstrating a real-world example.

This time the students really listened, asked questions — and for the first time — they understood how the parabola on the screen modeled the height vs. area relationship, why the vertex is where it is, and how a quadratic relationship is different from a linear relationship. Everything was clearly explained by looking at the robot in mid-air and the correlated data and graph on the lesson’s interface as projected on the wall.

Victoria, who was quiet during the demonstration, raised her hand later on and asked the teacher: “So is this the same relationship when I turn on a flashlight, and come close to a wall, the light gets small and when I go back the light becomes bigger?”

The teacher replied with tears of joy in her eyes. “Yes, Victoria, that’s correct!”

Surprisingly, Victoria shouted: “Ah! NOW I understand quadratic equations!”

The lesson was a success.

The students left the class that day talking about Algebra and relationships, something that never happened before.

EdTech is Much More than a Smart Board!

This amazing story happened last year while we tested the RobotsLAB BOX lessons in classrooms, fine-tuning them and preparing them for prime time together with our teachers. We experienced similar “revelation” moments every time we ran a lesson, to various groups. It was exciting!

Math proficiency is not a luxury our schools can afford skipping, this is one of the core elements of the work force of the 21st century. Recent research findings published by the Harvard Business School Review stated that 62% of all American jobs require entry-level workers to be proficient in Algebra. This is not a surprise considering the fact that we live in the digital era, where every business, marketing, manufacturing or engineering decision must rely on real data and the correlations hidden in it.

Now, if the average U.S. high school produces only 32% math-proficient graduates, who will fill all these open positions?

There must be a better way to engage students in math and science.

There are many initiatives that are trying to bridge this gap, some are using smart boards, some are using iPads while others are trying flipped classrooms and MOOC such as Khan Academy. However, at the end of the day students still don’t understand why math is relevant to their life.

And this is where robots are coming into the picture.

Robots are moving in and interacting with our physical universe. They are the absolute opposite of the abstract: they are very visual.

In her famous book, “Visual Literacy”, Lynell Burmark emphasizes the importance of visual learning, as it improves learning by 400%, and improves information retention by 650%!

CREDIT RobotsLAB bar graphIt’s easy to see why: I can spend 20 minutes explaining to someone how to use a screwdriver, draw equations representing the vectors of the direction and force we need to apply in each step, etc., or just pick up a screwdriver and show him. In less than a minute, most people will get it.

Similarly, robots are visual, one sees them, and can immediately understand. On top of that – they’re fun and cool! And fun means engagement — which is directly correlated to success and higher scores which, in turn, will help the student in finding a decent job upon graduation.

And this is, after all, what the education system is all about — isn’t it?

* * *

RobotsLAB BOX is a teaching aid designed to engage students in math and science using robots. It includes a set of four robots controlled by a tablet, pre-loaded with Common Core and STAAR aligned lessons. Teachers don’t need any prior experience with robotics or computer science to conduct the lessons.

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Elad Inbar is the founder and CEO of both www.RobotAppStore.com the first marketplace for apps for robots, and www.RobotsLAB.com a boutique firm dedicated to teaching STEM topics using robotics platforms.

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