Schools start to pro­vide ro­bot ed­u­ca­tion to stu­dents

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIU ZHI­HUA li­uzhi­hua@chi­

Zhang Hang, 12, stares at a ro­bot that moves around clev­erly on the stage.

Shaped like a truck, the ro­bot stands about 20 cen­time­ters high, and moves at the com­mand of an op­er­a­tor, who gives or­ders us­ing a wire­less con­troller at­tached to his hand.

“Ro­bots are so cool,” Zhang says at the launch­ing cer­e­mony of a new toy gi­ant un­der Lego’s ed­u­ca­tional ro­bot se­ries, EV3.

“I can­not wait to start my mid­dle school, be­cause my mid­dle school will have ro­bot classes.”

When school re­opens in Septem­ber, Zhang will be en­rolled in Bei­jing No 12 Mid­dle School, which is fa­mous for its ro­bot cour­ses.

Just like Zhang’s school, many pri­mary and mid­dle schools in China have been pro­vid­ing ro­bot ed­u­ca­tion to stu­dents in re­cent years.

Al­though there are no re­li­able national statis­tics, ac­cord­ing to Lego, the largest ed­u­ca­tional ro­bot provider in China, there are now more than 20,000 schools in most of the prov­inces us­ing their ro­bots to of­fer classes to stu­dents. There are also 69 af­ter-school ed­u­ca­tional ro­bot cen­ters in 24 cities that have 10,000 fam­ily mem­ber­ships.

Be­sides, there are also var­i­ous other do­mes­tic and for­eign ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots, such as Gran­dar Ro­bot­ics, and Fishtech.

“I don’t know how many pri­mary and mid­dle schools pro­vide ro­bot ed­u­ca­tion nowa­days, but I’m sure the num­ber has been in­creas­ing very quickly in the past years,” ob­serves Wang Ji­hua, a se­nior ro­bot teacher in Shang­hai Shixi School, which started the first ro­bot class for schools in Shang­hai in 1999.

The in­crease has be­come ac­cel­er­ated since 2003, when the national ed­u­ca­tional au­thor­ity in­cluded ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in­tro­duc­tion and ba­sic ro­bot de­sign­ing knowl­edge as part of stan­dard op­tional cour­ses for mid­dle schools, Wang adds.

There may be dif­fer­ent brands and prices, and the items dif­fer for var­i­ous age groups, but a stan­dard set usu­ally con­tains in­tel­li­gent bricks or blocks with com­put­er­ized sen­sors, re­mote con­troller and an ex­pla­na­tion book­let.

In a ro­bot class, teach­ers cover top­ics such as what ro­bots are and how they work, and di­vide stu­dents into groups to de­sign and as­sem­ble ro­bots.

Zheng Jianchun, a ro­bot class teacher of Bei­jing No 12 Mid­dle School, says when he started teach­ing robotre­lated knowl­edge in late 1990s, there were few stu­dents who showed in­ter­est, but now stu­dents are very pas­sion­ate about ro­bot classes.

In his school, there are re­quired ro­bot cour­ses for se­nior stu­dents, and op­tional cour­ses and clubs for ju­nior stu­dents. The classes al­ways get an over­whelm­ing re­sponse.

Stu­dents ben­e­fit a lot from those classes, says Zheng, who in 2010 au­thored a best-sell­ing book ti­tled Struc­ture and Pro­gram of a Ro­bot based on his teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

“By de­sign­ing and con­trol­ling a ro­bot, stu­dents can bet­ter un­der­stand knowl­edge ac­quired in cour­ses such as physics and math­e­mat­ics, and then learn to ap­ply the knowl­edge in real life,” Zheng says.

Ethan Danahy, an en­gi­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist from Tufts Univer­sity, Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, the United States, agrees with Zheng.

He thinks the cur­rent prob­lem in ed­u­ca­tion is the lack of mo­ti­va­tion among stu­dents, and the ro­bot is a great prod­uct to help change that.

“When stu­dents work with their hands, they are en­gaged, and are in­vent­ing, cre­at­ing and build­ing new so­lu­tions to prob­lems,” Danahy says.

Many of Zheng’s stu­dents are ad­mit­ted into top-level uni­ver­si­ties, such as Har­vard, Peking and Ts­inghua, ma­jor­ing in en­gi­neer­ing and com­puter science, among oth­ers.

But Wang Ji­hua, the ro­bot teacher with the pres­ti­gious school in Shang­hai, says that is not the rea­son to use ro­bots. Ro­bot classes make stu­dents more creative and co­op­er­a­tive, and in­spire their in­ter­est and sense for science, rather than to help stu­dents score bet­ter in ex­am­i­na­tions, Wang says.

“I think the most ben­e­fi­cial thing a ro­bot class can give to stu­dents is to make them re­al­ize whether they love science or not,” Wang says.

Wang him­self has led his stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in sev­eral ro­bot-de­sign­ing com­pe­ti­tions, but he says not all schools are able to have stu­dents ex­posed to such ac­tiv­i­ties, be­cause of fi­nan­cial con­straints.

A set of ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots, usu­ally used by a group of four to six stu­dents, costs thou­sands of yuan, and only well-to-do schools can af­ford it. Wang’s school has spent 210,000 yuan ($34,000) on its ro­bot classes this year.


Stu­dents show in­ter­est in the ro­bot se­ries, EV3, pro­duced by Lego, the largest ed­u­ca­tional ro­bot provider in China at the toy’s launch­ing cer­e­mony.

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