August 10, 2021
FIRST Robotics Canada Teams Up with Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy to Tackle Learning Loss in Ontario Schools
By Karthik Kanagasabapathy, Annika Pint, & Jesse Flot
The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected learning in math and stopped many educational robotics classrooms and afterschool clubs, which help contextualize math and computational thinking for students. FIRST Robotics Canada and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy teamed up to help combat these effects of learning loss for students in Ontario, Canada.
This summer, FIRST Robotics Canada used a curriculum from the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy to offer safe, effective and engaging workshops to 1,074 students across 60 schools in Ontario.
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted our communities in immeasurable and disproportionate ways. Students in underserved and underrepresented communities suffered immense adverse effects, especially in educational outcomes. Recognizing this, we wanted to find a way to provide safe and accessible virtual programming to engage and excite these students about the world of coding, mathematics and general problem-solving skills. We wanted students to experience that ‘eureka’ moment you get when you solve a tough problem.,” said Karthik Kanagasabapathy, manager of strategy, operations and analytics at FIRST Canada. “The Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy curriculum was the perfect solution. The guided lessons were incredibly accessible for a wide range of students, especially those with little to no coding experience. Students started these virtual lessons thinking it was going to be another day of typical online learning, but left feeling thrilled that they coded a virtual robot to navigate a course as fast as possible. It was incredibly rewarding to see this reinvigoration of their passion for learning and problem-solving.”
Facilitators from FIRST Canada helped the students and teachers sign in to the robotics simulator and guided them through carefully scaffolded activities and instructional videos that introduced basic programming, robotics and mathematics concepts and fostered critical thinking and problem-solving.
“The lessons are so well-structured and well-scaffolded that participating students could easily follow along, both during the session with the facilitators, and afterwards on their own. Even after a year spent learning online, the students and teachers were very engaged and were able to develop their coding skills and learn math concepts in a short period of time. This is an amazing learning tool for remote learning but also for in-person learning, whether physical robotics equipment is or isn’t available in the classroom,” said Annika Pint, program Manager for FIRST Canada.
Each workshop was supported by RoboCamp with Virtual SPIKE Prime, a new curriculum developed by the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy in response to COVID-19 conditions. In a time where access to physical robotics kits and classrooms is limited, every student can still learn to program on their own virtual robot, directly in their web browser. The curriculum teaches basic programming, proportional mathematics, robotics, and other STEM concepts at an introductory level. A built-in programming environment and robot simulations allow students to experiment and iterate from anywhere. All lessons are self-contained, require a minimum of instructor supervision, and include built-in opportunities to self-assess progress.
"Our team at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy is absolutely delighted to have had the opportunity to collaborate with FIRST Canada. They did an incredible job reaching students where they're at and creating awesome STEM experiences, even when faced with the challenges brought on by COVID-19. I am so thankful that we were able to be a small part of the positive impact they make daily,” said Jesse Flot, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy.
FIRST Robotics Canada inspires Canadian high school and elementary school students to pursue further studies and careers in science, technology and engineering. It pursues its mission primarily through offering opportunities for students, working in teams and assisted by expert adult mentors, to build robots and to take part in tournaments which feature on-field competitions, judged awards and other forms of recognition, potentially including university and college scholarships. https://www.firstroboticscanada.org/
Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy studies how educators can use robots to teach Computer Science, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CS-STEM). Our mission is to use the educational affordances of robotics to create CS-STEM opportunities for all learners. We fulfill our mission by developing research-based solutions that are classroom-tested and foreground CS-STEM concepts. https://www.cmu.edu/roboticsacademy/