Re: ROBOT: Reading, Writing and Robotics

Date: Thu Nov 15 2001 - 15:20:10 MST

JR forwards:
> The 9-year-old programmed the brick-sized robot to remain within the confines
> of a black oval ring printed on a large sheet of paper. When its light sensor
> detects black, the contraption, built of Lego brick and a microcomputer, backs
> up, turns around on its four rubber wheels and plays "Fur Elise."
> Amir's fourth-grade class at Highland Oaks Elementary School in Arcadia is
> testing a novel program using robotics in basic science classes. His teacher,
> Coyla Grumm, said the program teaches more than just scientific concepts; it
> also addresses problem solving and teamwork. "It's that thinking process," she
> said. "They're choosing what they want to do. They're challenging themselves."

I grew up in Arcadia and although I didn't go to Highland Oaks Elementary,
I had many friends who did. The one thing that stands out is that it was
the school in the richest part of the city. Arcadia is an upper middle
class community but it has geographic stratification, with the priciest
homes in the northern part of the city including many that deserve to
be called mansions.

> Arcadia Unified School District's approach is different. The district wants
> students to build and program robots as part of the basic science curriculum
> for elementary and middle school--studying scientific principles by putting
> them to work.
> The robots aren't cheap. Equipping the school for the pilot cost more than
> $29,000. And district officials warn that educators should be wary of useless
> products billed as educational that amount to little more than toys.

It is unfortunate but unsurprising that the advantages from this expensive
pilot program went to the school whose kids already had the greatest
advantages from their wealthy parents. No doubt most of those parents
could easily afford to buy their kids Lego Mindstorms robot kits at home.
But by getting the school district to do it, the purchase is subsidized
by the middle class families living in the rest of the city, who receive
no benefit from the program.

Having vented, I do think the Mindstorms robots are really cool and
it is good to see more kids having a chance to play with them. I just
hope they give the kids in other schools a turn, maybe rotate the robot
lab through the schools. And of course it would be nice if less well
off cities than Arcadia were able to afford this kind of enrichment.
If Bill Gates wants to help education he could do worse than to fund
this kind of program.


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