We’re are so proud to announce that our Virtual Robotics Toolkit robotics simulator is now available for purchase from the Microsoft eStore! This tech giant has always been vital in making new software available to larger populations, and by carrying our educational software we feel confident that Microsoft will help expose more students, educators and robotics fans to our software.
Cogmation Robotics, the Winnipeg- company behind the award-nominated robotics simulator will join forces with one of the largest competitive robotics events in the world, World Robot Olympiad.
Director of Sales for Cogmation Tim Shea says, “We are thrilled to partner with WRO™ to bring the fun and excitement of virtual robotics to all their participants. Kids from all over the world can soon program and design robots, and take on WRO challenges with each other at any time all year long, a great addition to the already strong WRO programs.”
Similar to the Olympics, teams from around the world spend months practicing their skills before regional finals, hoping to make it to the national final and ultimately the big event. Hundreds of teachers, mentors and volunteers of all backgrounds work with thousands of school-aged students to become the best in their category, and it takes a lot of hard work.
Hours upon hours are spent building, programming and controlling LEGO® robots that are required to complete a set of tasks within a certain timeframe.
Cogmation’s software The Virtual Robotics Toolkit is a computer program that enables students to master their LEGO® robotics skills before they use the physical robot. The command console is identical to the physical robots’ and the graphics are of superior quality, making the simulator and excellent learning tool. Just like pilots use flight simulators for cost-effective and learning purposes, now robotics students and educator can enjoy similar benefits.
Secretary General for WRO, Claus Ditlev Christensen shares Tim’s sentiments; “There is a future for computer simulated robotics. It’s a clever way to train people and explore new possibilities. We are really looking forward to increasing our reach and getting more people involved in the world of both virtual and real-life robots.”
Cogmation is also excited to announce the First Annual Build-a-Bot to kick off it’s partnership with the World Robot Olympiad. Participants can enter their LEGO® Digital Designer 3D robot designs for a chance to win an official LEGO® MINDSTORMS® robot, valued at over $400. The winner will also have their robot design featured in the 2017 version of the Virtual Robotics Toolkit!
To enter visit: virtualroboticstoolkit.com/build-a-bot
Artificial & Emotional Intelligence:
Both types have a major role to play in our future, and it’s up to us to ensure there is a balance.
How can we achieve this? It’s starts at school.
There are several articles that discuss the Danish way of schooling children, and highlight some differences of curriculum content versus North American standards. In Denmark, children are taught empathy at a minimum of one-hour per week within their curriculum. Their population, government and therefore educational system seem to recognize the vast importance of emotional intelligence, and how it helps not just individuals, but society as a whole.
“A University of Michigan study of nearly 14,000 college students found that students today have about 40% less empathy than college kids had in the 1980s and 1990s. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our-All-About-Me World, argues that that the rise of narcissism and loss of empathy are key reasons for why nearly a third of college kids are depressed and mental health problems among kids are on the rise.”
What does this have to do with artificial intelligence?
Enter robots, to the equation.
When most people think of robots, they think of robots from characters they’ve seen on TV, like Johnny 5 from the 80s or Wall-E from Pixar; Roomba vacuums or cars that can park themselves. None of those answers are wrong, but the ones we’re talking about specifically are robots that are generally built by children.
LEGO, a long standing household brand evolved from it’s plastic bricks several years ago, and offers different types of robot-building packages. The LEGO MINDSTORMS robots have international appeal and are used in schools and for competitive robotics on almost every continent.
The extension of LEGO known as FIRST LEGO League, or “FLL” if you’re part of the in-crowd, have thousands of community members in the form of students, educators and mentors, not to mention sponsors and parents. It’s a BIG business and if you haven’t heard of it yet; you will soon.
The rise of encouraging our students to become fluent in other languages, such as the language of computer programming (coding) is a hot-topic in schools.
Students that partake in group exercises such as robotics and especially competitive robotics, are excellently exposed to Social & Emotional Learning.
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
If you visit the FIRSTinspires.org website, you’ll see the text “More Than Robots” and nothing could be more true. Robots are the mere catalyst that allow for so many other things to take place.
Their founder Dean Kamen says his vision is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”
“Dean Kamen is a prolific inventor, entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for science and technology. His passion and determination to help young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology are the cornerstones of FIRST. For over 25 years, Kamen has resolutely led the growth of FIRST to where it is now universally recognized as the leading, not-for-profit STEM engagement program for kids worldwide.”
This team-building that occurs on a scholastic level also engrains important life skills on other levels. FIRST challenges youth to not just understand and relate, but to actively engage with others in the solving of a real-world problem using a combination of collaboration and technology. Working towards a common goal, practicing new skills to help them achieve that as a group, and experiencing the emotions of winning or defeat in final competitions; as a group.
Sportsmanship is a quality seen in many athletic establishments, and the FIRST LEGO League is a wonderful example of how students don’t necessarily need to play sports, to have it.
Having students learn how to execute their imagination into action via fun and trendy robots, and then bringing them to life via programming and early mechanical engineering skills is the epitome of inspiration.
Here are real-time, real-life examples of giving students the tools to achieve and succeed; to be creative and solve problems, and to foster their budding intelligence in a fun and engaging way!
Cogmation Robotics and the Virtual Robotics Toolkit are happy to see more people becoming involved with and aware of educational technology tools such as LEGO MINDSTORMS and the First LEGO League.
“______ Like a Girl” used to be an Insult.
Fill in the blank, it could have been “throw like a girl”, “run like a girl” or something else that insinuated that it could be done much better by a boy.
Well guess what world? It’s 2016 and thousands of girls have decided they don’t like those gender generalizations. These days, if you can STEM like a girl, chances are you’re going to be excellent at it.
The tides are bringing change around the world and findings show that more girls and women have entered into STEM-related fields, thanks to strong female leaders.
Now of course there were women breaking boundaries many years ago. Where would our technological world be without women like Ada Lovelace or Hedy Lamar? Thankfully we don’t have to think about that. Instead we can be glad they inspired so many more women to just do what they’re really really good at, like Reshma Saujani.
It has long been stated that “boys are better at math” and so ultimately at young ages, girls accept yet another role that is given to them without resistance. Thankfully there were enough women out there that didn’t agree with these silly rules about who can be good at what. Women around the world are stepping up and breaking down stereotypes, especially when it comes to coding and computer programming.
The wave of organizations encouraging girls to excel in STEM classes has gained incredible momentum. There are new initiatives and companies every day that focus on the opportunities that exist when a level playing field exists, and limitations are not handed out like school supplies in grade school.
Organizations like Girls Who Code, and G(irls)20 are perfect examples of women taking charge of a downward trend, and turning it into something that benefits not just individuals, but future global economies. Talk about making the world a better place!
Thousands of young women are enrolled in after-school workshops, specialized classes, and even new curriculum that encourages female students everywhere to be whomever they want to be.
Girls and women need to see themselves as capable of succeeding in STEM, and feel comfortable in their workplace. It is time to encourage girls to be Adas and Hedys, and show that STEM like a girl is something to be proud of. –Ana Carolina Queiroz, G(irls)20 Delegate, Brazil
Thank you to our guest writer Sydnee Yates from PDF Supply for writing this special entry.
Gamification and it’s Place in the World of Education Technology
Gamification: Using STEM Technology to Inspire Learning
1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school every year. That’s a shocking statistic, right? The vast majority of teaching is through lecturing, note-taking, and standardized test taking. With over 7 billion people in the world, it is hard to imagine that all 7 billion of those people learn the same way. It’s a nice thought that everyone should learn the same way, but the high dropout rate suggests it isn’t so.
STEM technology gives us new hope each passing year that there are more ways to educate students. The acronym STEM, as defined by Anne Jolly in her article “Six Characteristics of a Great STEM Lesson” , stands for the following:
1. Science: The study of the natural world.
2. Technology: The STEM definition for technology includes any product made by humans to meet a want or need…A chair is technology; so is a pencil.
3. Engineering: The design process kids use to solve problems.
4. Math: The language of numbers, shapes, and quantities.
Gamification is one developing method of learning that STEM technology has brought about. Wikipedia defines gamification in learning as: “an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments.”
There are many benefits to using gamification in education. Just like with video games, there is almost always a progression of achievements. The most common way is through unlocking higher levels the more a user plays or by gaining points in the same way. Achievements can give students pride, encourage them to ask questions, and practice more.
These games often have extra features like bonuses that reward the user for going the extra mile. Timed gameplay is another method that pushes students’ skills (and learning) forward. By setting a time limit students must find fast and creative solutions within the game. Continued gameplay increases a student’s expertise and encourages willpower and grit. They must persevere or “lose” the levels (and knowledge) they have gained so far.
Gamification does more than make learning feel like a video game, it also can inspire the users to pursue careers in STEM. Sometimes people continue down this path because they love this type of learning and want to continue to help create games for the classroom. Perhaps the games they played didn’t quite suit them and they want to help promote a new style of learning. For them, the joy comes from creating games that might go on to help countless other children who learn the same way they do.
According to Knewton Infographics , humans spend 3 billion hours a week playing video and computer games. So, it is easy to see how we could harnass gamification in the future of education. Gamification in learning seems to be one step in the right direction in the area of educating our students.
The Cost-Effective Enhancement for any Makerspace
It’s no secret how exciting the trend of makerspaces are for schools. While this movement was started quite some time ago, it seems to have gained particularly great momentum in the past 5 years.
Built on the idea of ‘constructionism’, makerspaces are a very obviously translated idea, where a space is dedicated within a school or educational facility for students to create and ‘make’ things. There is shared resources and networking that takes place and provides a different structure of learning for students. Ranging from woodworks to robotics, these spaces are extremely important in fostering creativity and problem solving in students.
Where Will Makerspaces Work Best?
Makerspaces also range from elementary schools to college campuses, so their versatility is extremely useful.
According to Educause.edu, on their article 7 Things you Should Know About Makerspaces,
“….certain materials and tools are emblematic of makerspaces, such as microcontrollers called arduinos and 3D printers, valuable for fast prototyping. As the notion of providing space for project design and construction has caught on in education, such places have acquired other accoutrements, from paints and easels and impromptu stage sets to cooktops and candy molds. Used by students, faculty, and staff, makerspaces have become arenas for informal, project-driven, self-directed learn- ing, providing workspace to tinker, try out solutions, and hear input from colleagues with similar interests. “
It’s places like these that encourage a different type of learning to take place, perhaps a more ‘open-range’ type of environment that differs from the structure of a classroom being led by a teacher.
Some supplies for a makerspace are less available than others, such as 3D printers and robots.
If you compare sharing a robot amongst a class of 20 students to them all sharing a computer to learn from; you can see how the essence of learning is diluted. The experience is completely different and likely not nearly as effective or beneficial to the students until it’s their “turn” to use the computer.
The same can be said for robotics. We know they are extremely useful for teaching many STEM concepts and early mechanical engineering, and LEGO robots are very popular for schools and competitions but start around $400. For most public schools, one robot may be more than is affordable so to effectively teach an entire class by sharing; the students are not receiving the best quality experience from their class.
Here is another example where the Virtual Robotics Toolkit can provide a solution to hundreds of schools and thousands of students, where each student is able to individually use the simulator. They can build and control their own robots using the exact same controller and concepts as the physical robots. In fact, if they’ve already learned how to use a LEGO EV3 MINDSTORMS or NXT robot, they will seamlessly navigate the VRT.
Pilots use flight simulators to learn to fly for the same reason students can learn robotics with one; costs and training purposes.
If students are given access to the VRT in addition to the makerspace of sharing a physical robot, their skills and overall experience will be greatly enhanced and at a fraction of the cost of a real robot.
It’s a win-win for teachers as well, since they’re able to help their class all get to the same level.
Where can this movement take students and educators?
The Educause article says, “One key demand of a makerspace is that it exist as a physical location where participants have room and opportunity for hands-on work, but as these environments evolve, we may see more virtual participation.”
This is such a great point, because of global networking the opportunities are truly endless. Again, here is a great window of opportunity for the VRT to be a part of your school’s makerspace. The software already encourages users to interact and even compete with other robot enthusiasts across the globe via the internet.
This capability allows students to learn from eachother and share ideas and challenges that they would otherwise not have had the access to.
The Forgotten Option of STEM After-School
There are no shortages of after-school activities for parents to get their kids involved in. Soccer, swimming, ballet, gymnastics and hockey to name a few, all eventually work their way into millions of household schedules across the globe.
While some students go on to become professional athletes, some also lose interest after a few years and try something else. What’s important is that they have tried learning something new, they have some fun, they make some new friends, and learn new skills outside of what their schools can offer.
It’s these skills that can help shape who they become, and how they respond to different situations later on in life.
Is there a shortage of extracurriculars that aren’t athletically-based? It could just be that the computer camps and robotics workshops don’t have the same following or community that hockey families know so well, but that actually is just a matter of perspective.
Take First LEGO League (FLL) and the World Robotics Olympiad (WRO) events, for example. These are internationally acclaimed and recognized robotics events that have hundreds of thousands of online fans and participants. These competitions are held in different countries and the teams that take part spend months preparing for each.
FLL participants partake in robotics during the school year, and also during the “offseason” thanks to dedicated mentors and educators that are just as passionate about robotics, as they are about sharing that passion with their students.
The summer months are often filled with various challenges and smaller scale competitions to keep teams engaged and allow them to fine tune their budding skills.
Each of these students are benefitting from similar educational, emotional and psychological benefits that they would experience with athletically-based team sports. They face and overcome challenges as a team, they make new friends, and they each contribute their own set of skills and strengths to better the team. Some may lose interest after some time, yet some will go on to pursue educations and careers in STEM-related fields.
If these student’s parents hadn’t taken notice of that Robotics Workshop poster in the school’s hallway, or were fortunate enough for their student to attend a school that used robotics in their science classrooms, they would never know what they were missing out on.
These early interactions with STEM-based projects and activities can greatly influence students and their choices later on in their schooling. The confidence building alone can change a student’s attitude towards sometimes-difficult courses, and enable them to develop new skills sets that ballet class alone wouldn’t have been able to offer.
“The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) says U.S. industries will lack one million STEM graduates over the next eight years, and according to the White House’s TechHire Initiative, there are more than 500,000 unfilled jobs in information technology alone.”
This summer while you’re looking for ways to entertain and challenge your children, don’t forget about all of the other options that may be available to you and them. Seek out schools and trusted educators for alternatives that include STEM and robotics.
While they may think they get to have fun playing with robots and building things, you know they’re benefitting from their experience in an educational way too.
Who knows? After a summer robotics program, maybe in September they’ll be more interested in Science class!
“What do I Look for in EdTech Products?”
The rising popularity of EdTech products and software must be mind-boggling to educators, when it comes to making a choice about what to spend the budget dollars on. Will it be effective? Will the students engage? Will they enjoy using it?
When we look to equate usage with value, that’s fine for a consumer product that users are spending their own time on, but students aren’t volunteers. Teachers need to devote their important instructional time to products that they know will work.
A recent article highlighted some interesting points that were revealed in their studies:
“The SRI researchers found some evidence that when it comes to ed tech products, effectiveness and scale may actually be inversely related: The more effective the tool, the smaller the scale at which it was adopted, and vice versa.” edweek.org/…/popularity-of-ed-tech-not-necessarily-linked
Robotics are a topic of interest for a small percentage of the overall population, so when we see steady growth within our our sales channels and high rates of satisfaction within our teachers and hobbyists, we feel the VRT is proving itself step-by-step as the “more effective tool” as described above.
Other popular characteristics that have been found to work most effectively, are those that can be integrated seamlessly into existing curriculums. If there is a turn-key solution that is packaged clearly, provides demos and tech support, and also allows educators to gauge the student’s learning abilities in a translatable way, these are the products that will win over others.
EdTech Products for the Sake of ‘EdTech’?
“I have seen a huge amount of time and money thrown into EdTech for the sake of EdTech, which the article addresses. Ironically, I actually have a reputation as a bit of a luddite at my school, because I never adopt a technology tool unless it is superior to a conventional teaching method.I feel that often our education system is pouring money into EdTech in search of a fountain of youth for our aging education model. The EdWeek article (posted above) seems to agree. As the article implies, the fact that teachers only use tools that fit in with a traditional model of education is part of the problem. We have to think about how the tools will help us teach material, not fit into our own models of how we think teaching SHOULD be, while at the same time maintaining a healthy skepticism of technology tools, making sure they are effective before adopting them.”
A New Language?
Some schools are doing just that, and revising the current categories of subjects that students have access to credits for. The wave of technology has washed over many, and it’s time for school divisions to take a closer look at their course offerings.
A great start has been that in 2015, Computer Science became a High School Graduation Requirement in 28 states up from just 12 in 2013.
Coding has also increased in popularity over the last 2 years, by a whopping 700% in “bootcamps” and workshops.
For later generations that don’t see the need for coding specifically, that could be due to lack of understanding what coding truly is. Coding is merely an aspect of the larger subject of Computer Science, and according to Code.org, “Teach a kid computer science, and he or she will be more truly tech savvy and likely to be able to pick up the relevant coding language.”
The movement is so significant, that “states like Florida and Washington are already debating bills that would allows students to count computer programming courses towards the foreign language graduation requirement.”
It’s changes like these that will start the evolution of public education as we know it.
What Students can Learn From Robotics
The team-building and excitement; the challenges and problem solving; the lasting friendships and new life skills are all listed as great reasons to get involved, plus these are all occurring while the students learn solid computer programming and coding skills.
To know that FLL teams across the world are using the VRT means a lot to us here at Cogmation, and is proof that our software is an ideal offseason tool for FLL and WRO teams.
It’s ease-of-use for students to not only learn how to build and control their robots, but to do so virtually is extremely cost-effective. The creativity and engagement that naturally are inspired by playing with the virtual robots instils a sense of accomplishment for any teacher or mentor. Having children as young as 6 years old begin to learn how to code and use computer programming is no small feat.
What Else can my Student Learn From Robotics?
According to an excellent article published by EdSurge.com, Social Emotional Learning has become a new focus for many educators. School has long been a place where students were taught academics and a few life skills, but now there has been increased awareness around the importance of nurturing the whole student, not just the academic side.
“We are seeing an expanded definition of success, and a broader range of indicators, including a non-academic set of measurements,” says Arielle Rittvo Kinder, Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. In fact, “social-emotional measures are becoming more widespread and are even starting to be used in actual accountability measures,” says Lynzi Ziegenhagen, Chief Executive Officer of Schoolzilla, referencing the CORE network of California districts who have developed a School Quality Index.”
Our newest team member Alex Crooks has first-hand insight to what other important skills his students have learned, in addition to computer programming and coding;
“LEGO robotics programs like Sumo, FIRST LEGO League, or the World Robot Olympiad are a perfect place to help develop concrete problem solving skills. The education community often claims that it fosters problem solving and critical thinking, when in reality we are just changing the way we are wording test questions.
LEGO robotics gives students a worthy and engaging problem to solve, and mentors provide the skills students need to solve those problems. Because students are given tools, not memorized material or answers, they have to invest in the challenges given to them. This process increases student confidence in their ability to solve problems on their own. This then leads to increased self motivation.
I have seen A-honor roll students who started robotics with little to no ability to solve a problem. They were excellent at paying attention, and giving facts back, but when they were given an open ended problem, they required a teacher to walk them through it step by step. Those same students are showing newfound confidence not only in robotics, but in their responses to classroom questions like “What can we as a society do to help conserve the environment?”. Those students are now leading a school wide t-shirt up cycling campaign, making reusable shopping bags to distribute to grocery stores in order to decrease the number of plastic bags in our local landfill
They came up with this idea on their own. That is the kind of problem solving we need in our schools.“
Where will robotics help take YOUR students? Get started with the VRT today.
We’ve had a Fun Weekend Using Education Technology
Members of our Team Attended the Manitoba Schools Science Symposium
The largest annual science event held for all students throughout Manitoba, this STEM-celebrating event was held on Friday at the University of Manitoba and was open to students from grades 4 to 12.
We enjoyed high traffic at our Virtual Robotics Toolkit booth and saw several students quickly master the variety of options for customizing robots, and adjusting the environment in which the virtual robots are engaging in.
It’s always so gratifying to see our product being used by students because they are able to use the software and navigate it’s features in such a short amount of time.
One student in particular was nominated our honorary “Beta Tester” due to his incredible ability to navigate the program. He figured out how to customize the gravity, environment, lighting and other cool custom features of the VRT without even being taught where to find them. He was so excited with his discovery he then even reached out to teach other students what he had learned.
That wonderful human quality that occurs when we truly enjoy something; it’s even better when we can share it with others.
It’s that passion to learn and enthusiasm to include others on that journey that is so important to nurture in our students.
ASU’s SumoBot Competition & Science Fair
In North Carolina, another member of the Cogmation team was busy working with even more students this weekend at a Sumo Bot Competition held at Appalachian State University’s Science Fair.
Several teams had been training for months before Saturday’s big event; both students and teachers did a fabulous job of encouraging each other and using the skills they’d practiced.
It was a great afternoon of seeing science and education technology in action.
Virtual sumo wrestling robots are such an engaging way to use the robots, and really challenge students to manipulate and control their customized robots. For them, this is the fun part of education technology, where learning is ‘just’ a side-effect.
It’s Science Symposiums and Fairs like these that help get students excited about education technology, and the many facets for future use.
Organizations such as the First LEGO League (FLL) that may have been unknown to them prior, could now be attainable programs to work towards.