ROBOTIC ACTIVITIES THAT ENGAGE YEAR 6 STUDENTS INTO STEM — VISUAL DESCRIPTIONS OF BEHAVIOUR
The fundamental role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills among the workforce seems to be the source of concern for several modern countries, including Australia, at the National and the State level. However, it is acknowledged that the Australian public has little value on STEM and education in general and on teacher input, STEM teachers, and the promotion of STEM in particular. Therefore, several initiatives have emerged to promote, even from year 6 (the last year of primary school). Bringing some awareness regarding STEM when most awards during assembly ceremonies are for achievement in sports, followed by milestones in literacy and numeracy (fundamental reading/writing and elementary mathematics) is indeed a challenge.
Nevertheless, we have engaged in a program to bring students on an excursion to University and have a complete day (two sessions of 2.5 hrs) of educational experiences around STEM. We will report in now three years of running these educational activities around robotics. Autonomous robots are the consummation of advances in all disciplines related to STEM. There is not only the artificial intelligence and integration of smart systems. Robots represent the embodiment of a computer and the information age and drones and humanoids the merging of artificial agents with people in all sorts of environments. Today autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things are already radically changing our society faster than the smartphones did just a few years back. Thus, it is important to evaluate how young minds perceive their potential involvement in the fields that lead to careers choices. More importantly, address some of the concerns regarding non-STEM; in particular, the number of jobs that demand some level of technological competencies is increasing, and they will also require the ability to work hand in hand with STEM professionals. Thus, there will be an increase of STEM modules in non-STEM courses. We expect to motivate non-STEM education to incorporate an understanding of STEM to shape other elements of our society constructively. For example, what is to be expected of responsibilities and liabilities as machines become more autonomous, distributed and self-evolving?
We show that educational activities with robots (in particular software development / programming) are very popular. However, even among the different tasks involving robots, those that lead to personal participation where the job involves human-robot interaction, and physical challenge are even more popular. Thus, competing against other robots via telepresence, or constructing a small presentation involving robots and humans receive significantly more rewarding feedback on interest and engagement.