Recently, we attended SXSWEDU to talk to educators from around the world about the power of Social Emotional Learning with Robotics. We want to share those resources with you. We’ll be sharing five activities created specifically to integrate robotics into CASEL’s five core SEL competencies – complete with directions, materials, and everything you need to integrate these activities into your classroom.
When you think of social emotional learning (SEL), do you picture computer science? Maybe not; but research proves that CS is an engaging, hands-on way to help students develop and strengthen the soft skills they’ll need to become strong citizens, teammates, and leaders.
“STEM skills aren’t the only lessons students learn from robotics,” says Abigail Gilman in It Turns Out Learning Robotics Teaches Valuable Social Skills, a piece for WeAreTeachers.com. “Each time students set out on a robotics challenge, they are also building critical SEL skills like persistence, collaboration, critical thinking, creative innovation, and teamwork. The list goes on. As teachers, we’re tasked with molding the next generation of leaders, engineers, doctors, and scientists. And yeah, that’s an important job. But you know what’s also important? Teaching kids how to be good collaborators, thinkers, problem-solvers, and citizens.”
Not convinced? In You Can’t Teach Robotics without SEL, an article for SmartBrief, Megan Bounit and Barbara Tennyson write, “The truth is, you just can’t teach robotics unless you start with SEL. Robotics is such a natural vehicle for social-emotional learning that, if you plan it out right, your students will practice skills in all five domains of CASEL’s framework before they even start coding.” We could cite more recent pieces – many more! – but we’ll spare you.
In this Social Emotional Learning with Robotics series, we’ll be exploring each of the 5 core competence areas outlined by the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (CASEL). Each of these core competence areas contains a complex and critical set of skills that students need to become successful citizens of the world. Robotics and social emotional learning work together like a rotation servo and a wheel. And we love that approaching social emotional learning through the lens of hands-on technology will help to engage and destigmatize SEL conversations for more students – including those that may not be ready for full-class discussions or direct SEL lessons. Providing a variety of opportunities for students to engage in social emotional learning benefits every student, which in turn benefits class community, classroom climate, and teacher experience. Those are some big benefits from one little robot!
Today, we’re exploring a Finch Robot activity designed to help students strengthen their self management skills.
What is self management? Here’s the definition from the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (CASEL): “The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.” Developing self management is a long, difficult, and rewarding process – many learners are on the journey to better understand and manage themselves well into adulthood. But as educators, we can help students to get a head start on this critical skill by incorporating activities that focus on understanding and managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Working with a partner or group towards a collective goal will encourage students to manage their emotions and behaviors, and engaging robotics activities will naturally inspire students to work toward a reaching a goal. But even within already related computer science and robotics activities, there are some games and challenges that can focus in on self management skills.
Let’s take a look at an activity designed to help students stay cool, calm, and collected as they communicate and collaborate. This game is called “The Communication Challenge”, and it pushes students to stay regulated so that they can better work together to reach a common goal with a partner. If students lose control of their emotions and become disregulated, it will impact their behavior, and make it more difficult to reach their goal. However, there’s no punishment for losing their cool! Students have the opportunity to get back on track and reconnect with their partners to work their way towards a win. In The Communication Challenge, partners sit back to back in chairs or on the floor. One partner takes the role of the Programmer – they are holding the programming device. The other takes the role of the Designer – they have the Finch sitting on the floor in front of them, as well as any objects provided to create an obstacle. Sitting back to back so that the Programmer cannot see the Finch, the Designer will choose a Challenge Card from the Communication Challenge Card selection. The Designer then has 5 minutes to guide the Programmer to program their Finch to complete the task on the challenge card, while facing the opposite direction (no peeking!). When the time is up, the Programmer can turn around and watch the Finch run the program together with the Designer.
This game can be customized for your students. If they’re just starting collaborative robotics challenges, you can add scaffolding like allowing them to ask unlimited questions, run through the challenges as many times as they’d like, or describe the challenge in words. If you’re looking to make it more difficult for groups, you can limit questions, prohibit describing the challenge, or other techniques to take the competition up a notch! Students can practice managing their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in this low-stakes activity, and have the chance to iterate and grow upon their reflections by starting a new round or working with a new partner.
Find detailed, step-by-step directions on the card below (Hint: You can also save this card to print out and use later!):
The Communication Challenge cards that we designed to go with this activity include just a few ideas for challenges that pairs can work through together! Create your own to customize your difficulty level or to incorporate your own theme – have your Finches drive through a story’s setting or map relevant to your geography unit; draw a specific shape that you’re studying in math class; mimic an animal’s movement patterns. You can connect the Finch Robot and the Communication Challenge to anything!
Would you try this self management through robotics activity with your class? What other robotics activities have you tried that have helped your students to strengthen their social emotional learning skills?