Stimulus strategies: 4 ways robotics blends STEAM and SEL

American Rescue Plan encourages district to tackle learning loss and support students' well-being

Looking for interdisciplinary learning activities that cover elements of STEAM, career preparation and social-emotional learning for students in the early grades?

Elementary school educators can use robotics—and the programming that goes with it—to energize lessons, from engineering to English language Arts, as students return to in-person learning, said Jason Innes, director of curriculum, training, and product management at KinderLab Robotics.

“We know, especially for the youngest kids, that physical manipulatives and being together in the physical space of the classroom and working directly with peers and teachers are important in early childhood education,” Innes says.

Unlike the first two stimulus packages, the recently passed American Rescue Plan provides funding beyond the immediate district needs around remote learning and connectivity. Districts can use the funds to tackle learning loss and the social-emotional setbacks students have experienced over the last year, Innes says.

“Teachers can create integrated, creative technology experiences to support core subjects that are the subject of most assessments,” Innes says.

Many of the organizations that have developed standards suggest that embedding computer science into other subjects is the best way to teach these skills, he adds.

KinderLab’s KIBO robot is one tool teachers can use to address both academic and social-emotional growth as more students come back to school, Innes says. Here are some ideas.

  1. Teachers can divide students into small groups to work on projects that embed STEAM-oriented coding lessons into social studies, English and math.
  2. Students can decorate the robot like a storybook character and program it to act out a scene.
  3. Students studying civil servants could dress the robot like a firefighter or police officer and program it to drive around the map of a city.
  4. Robotics projects can also help young students re-connect with each other as they return to classrooms after months of distance learning. KIBO’s activities mesh with the Positive Technological Development Framework that identifies the positive communication, collaboration and creativity skills children can engage in with ed-tech.

“Students are not sitting by themselves in rows of laptops,” Innes says. “They’re working dynamically, sharing materials, learning to take turns, and developing the social-emotional skills that are as much a part of a good STEAM curriculum as the technology is.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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