We’ve all heard the phrase, “Meet students where they are.” Today, I saw once again how transformative meeting a student where he or she is can be.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the students who currently attend after-school robotics club, didn’t truly elect to join. They kind of got roped into it. In total there are eight students, six young men and two young women. One of the young women is especially quiet and up until today has been very shy about participating in most activities. I’ve tried to encourage her and to use my best teaching strategies to engage her, but honestly… I was beginning to think she just was not connecting to the activities and that she simply had no interest in robotics and engineering.
I ran 20 minutes late getting to club today because of a doctor’s appointment. The laptops were still down at the elementary school from Friday’s lesson with the first graders, and I didn’t have time to move them before our meeting.
I made a last-minute decision to switch up my plan for the day. (Something I don’t usually do.) Instead of working with the NXT kits and software, I took the middle school club down to the elementary lab to explore the LEGO WeDo kits.
What I observed was awesome. That quiet, non-participating young woman I just mentioned explored and built models non-stop for the entire meeting. She then elected to stay an extra twenty-five minutes, leaving her and two others just five minutes to run to the dining hall for dinner!
She worked independently for the most part and focused on using the “Getting Started” tutorials to build the models shown. I mainly observed. As she completed each model, I engaged her in a quick conversation and asked a few guiding questions.
She was a completely different student than I had previously seen. She was 100% engaged. Check it out! Hard at work and completely in to what she’s doing! (And with no coaxing or encouraging.)
I could see the confidence in her building right in front of me. It was amazing. I asked her if she’d like me to bring a WeDo kit to future club meetings so she could continue working with one. The answer? “Yes, please.”
The WeDo kit was perfect for introducing her to some important concepts. In just one hour, we were able to explore the movement of gears, the function of a motor, the use of a belt, and how programs are used to command the models’ movements. All she needed was to have the materials kit and the computer interface simplified. With no previous exposure to programming or model building, the NXT kit and software had been overwhelming for her, keeping her from getting involved.
When I said, “You know. The models you were building and programming today aren’t that different from the ones we’ve been working with up the road”, her face completely lit up. I think today’s experience has changed her ideas about “robotics club” and I’m excited to see where the excitement leads.
I will definitely continue to explore the benefits of using the LEGO WeDo kits with some of the older students. In addition to providing the perfect scaffolded introduction to robotics, it also brought out the playful and creative side of the students. When one student asked, “How are we supposed to build a robot if we don’t have any instructions?”, it led to a great conversation about the importance of play and trial and error.
It was a really good meeting today. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it was really good. I can never figure out who is learning more… me or my students? I like to think we’re both learning.