When does success look like failure? The important lessons found in robotics

When does success look like failure? The important lessons found in robotics

If you were a fly on the wall in the Robotics After School Club, you would see a messy, noisy room of kids and the facilitators bouncing around like bearings in a pinball machine. Learning Innovation Special Donald James talks about learning through failing.

Children creating robot prototypes with LEGO and Dash, 2018. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa

In an average session, kids shout for facilitators, build battle bots with LEGO, break things, moan ‘it’ doesn’t work, construct forts, or spend time hiding under a sandwich board. But at the end of every session, all the kids report how much fun they had learning about robots and that they can’t wait to come back next week.

Children brainstorming ideas of robots that could improve the museum, 2018. Te Papa

The Robotics After School Club in Te Papa’s Hīnātore | Learning Lab is a rare opportunity for kids to have fun and learn through failing. Over eight weeks, kids are encouraged to build robot prototypes that explore how robots could help to improve Te Papa. From concept to realisation, the ideas are all their own and every problem they discover is celebrated as an opportunity to learn something new.

Children creating robot prototypes with LEGO and Edison, 2018. Te Papa

The children form their own teams and brainstorm ideas of how robots could help Te Papa, whether it is security, visitor experience or building maintenance. We discuss minimum viable products, prototypes and how to pitch ideas. At the end of the eight weeks we celebrate the challenges, successes, and failures with whanau and friends by sharing and demonstrating their prototypes and ideas. Some teams went as far as making websites, presentations, interactive table displays, and business cards.

Children proud of their robot prototypes created using LEGO and Cue, 2018. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa

This might sound like some kind of incubator… and it is. We want to give children an opportunity to practice learning and working in a way that reflects the innovative working environments organisations around the world are using right now. Being able to solve their own problems is a very important skill, particularly in a world that is changing as fast as it is today.

For instance, when a child says, “We can hear the motor turning but the wheels aren’t moving. We think the motor is broken”, they are demonstrating an understanding of cause and effect. It is a problem that can be investigated and assumptions can be challenged. Later that same session the child heroically called me back over to tell me, “We added more wheels because the robot was too heavy and now it works!”

Developing a robot programme with the block coding app for Dash, 2018. Te Papa

The kids who come to programmes in Hīnātore | Learning Lab, such as the Robotics After School Club, are encouraged to learn from their own perspective and teach each other as they make their own discoveries. We provide a variety of digital and physical tools and processes that allow different children to learn the same concepts and explore the same content in their own way. For instance, the Dash, Cue, and Edison robots we used had simple and complex coding interfaces. Kids could use whichever option they preferred to get the output they wanted to demonstrate their robot prototype.

Experimenting with code to help a roaming Cue robot avoid obstacles, 2018. Te Papa

One child from the very beginning was determined to create a blimp. He explored LEGO prototypes for a couple of weeks before using a set of magnetic, snap-together electrical components called littleBits to create a battery-powered flight board. On the final day, he showed up with eight helium balloons to attach to his robot and create his very own security blimp. He explained to us all that alone it wasn’t very threatening but a swarm could corner a thief in the museum and alert museum security staff.

In Hīnātore | Learning Lab, we are committed to the 21st century core competencies of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. We want to ignite the spark in children that lets them know that their ideas are exciting and even brilliant. We want kids to have the tools to be empowered by problems and fired up by failure. We want to help kids to enthusiastically work together on common goals and support each other. We want to help them share their ideas with others so their ideas can be appreciated and respected.

Getting a congratulatory hi-5 from a Baxter robot for completing the Robotics After School Club, 2018. Photo by Rachel Haydon. Te Papa

The Hīnātore | Learning Lab is a noisy, messy space where people come together to fail. This is what learning looks like at Te Papa.

If you are keen to come and try this for yourself, book your place on our term three Robotics After School Club now. To find out about our other programmes and events, sign up to our Learning at Te Papa newsletter or find us on Facebook.

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