Friday, February 1, 2008

A High Tech Teaching Assistant

"Robots Enter the Classroom"
"Some 60 Pittsburgh-area classrooms have a high-tech teaching assistant for the new school year: a robot.
This isn't your father's Roomba. For one thing, it doesn't do floors. For another, it's built of LEGOs. For a third, students build and program the robot themselves working from curricula created by engineers at the Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). CMU developed the curricula to work with LEGO Education's NXT, the latest model of the MINDSTORM robot. Each robot costs about $250.
As they go step-by-step through the process, students see the real-world applications of math and science, from how geometry relates to the robot's assessing the size of the classroom, to how physical laws govern the way the robot manipulates an object. Tech smarts play a role, too, as students program the robot's actions.
The curricula—one appropriate for middle-school students, the other for high-school students—were developed with the help of Pittsburgh-area teachers, who spent time in the Robotics Academy. (The robot shop is an educational outreach of CMU's Robotics Institute; it also sponsors robotics clubs, camps, and competitions for students, and robotics training for teachers.) Teachers worked with the robots and the lesson plans, and offered their feedback.
Robin Shoop, the academy's director, was himself a public-school teacher for nearly 30 years. Shoop says the in-class use of robots encourages students to get excited about math and science—subjects in which U.S. students' test scores sorely lag behind their counterparts in other industrialized nations.
There are other schools in the U.S. and Canada where robots are used for teaching, but if there was ever a natural home for robots in the classroom, it's "Robo-burgh." So dubbed by the Wall Street Journal in 1999 for its concentration of robotics businesses, the Pittsburgh area is home to some 80 companies in the industry. And CMU is the only university in the world that grants a Ph.D. in robotics.
No word yet on whether the robots can be programmed to reshelve books."

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