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Learning Library Blog Coding in the classroom with real-world learning
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The Innovator Solutions section includes contributions from corporate sponsors and advertisers representing education organizations, businesses, policy-making bodies and other influencers dedicated to transforming education.

Today’s students need to prepare for a variety of careers that will involve using technology to generate new ideas and creative solutions to problems. These careers could involve working in computer-based applications, inquiring into digital issues or overcoming barriers in more tangible areas.

Robotic mechanisms are manipulated using code in a number of careers. In the medical field, robots are programmed to complete surgical procedures where precision is key. In production, several robots are programmed to simultaneously work together to assemble products. In transportation, robotic sensors are programmed to aid drivers in safely traveling on the road and can even park cars.

LEGO Education offers ways for students to explore, learn and apply coding to real-world challenges. These activities combine the building experience of designing a physical model with the digital experience of coding the model to work. By marrying both digital and physical together, students can address both ISTE Standards around innovative design as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) related to engineering design to experience problem solving in a relevant way.

The Innovative Designer standard, which is one component of the ISTE Standards for Students, instructs  students to “solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions” using different technologies. Similarly, students also need to generate and evaluate potential solutions to solve a problem when working through the engineering design process as laid out by NGSS. Both sets of standards move students through a process of generating, testing and evaluating their ideas through creating prototypes.

Using platforms that are specially designed for classroom use, such as LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3  or WeDo 2.0, students can explore the engineering design and innovative design processes by working with a combination of physical and digital models. Through this combination, students can solve real-world problems. However, the trick is bringing these together in a meaningful way by offering inspiring STEM projects.

Learning to build and code

LEGO Education approaches learning to code through building then coding, which allows students to apply and find solutions to problems in real-world contexts. To program a robot, students first need to build their robot. Students examine the task their robot needs to complete to analyze the best design to complete their real-world task, such as creating automated navigation for a car.

Students need to carefully investigate the problem they are trying to solve to include all necessary information in their robot design and then evaluate different possible designs.

The design phase does not end here, but rather provides the best option to begin programming. The students then move into interacting with the robot by designing code to see if the mechanism meets the need.

As coding begins, students may still make changes to the design of the robot as they uncover issues in the way that it can be programmed to complete the task. Additionally, students will begin to innovate how the robot works through the way it is programmed as they enter into an iterative process of testing and modifying the program.

Building and coding to learn

Now is when the learning really happens. Students have to persevere as they run into the challenges presented as they build and code together. Students have to identify when they need to make changes to the robot’s design and when changes instead should be made to the code itself.

Students must show a strong understanding of how their robot works, where to take advantage of mechanical advantage, and how all the programming elements work. This type of problem solving becomes multifaceted, as students need to know how to manipulate the design of the robot while simultaneously creating the code to make it respond in the desired ways.

The goal is for students to become comfortable enough building and coding that they can apply their abilities concurrently to solve real-life STEM challenges. The LEGO Education coding activities enable students to build the confidence to approach problems and the thinking needed to code real-life robots to compete tasks, by learning to think through both their code and their design when trying to find the more effective solution to their problem.

In the classroom, teachers should consider how to integrate the digital and physical components together to expose students to the critical thinking necessary to find solutions given two platforms working together.

Jenny Nash has been an educational specialist for LEGO Education North America for two years. During this time, she has worked with educators throughout the U.S. to understand how to bring playful learning opportunities to their classrooms. Prior to working with LEGO Education, Jenny worked at Marshall University in the College of Education conducting STEM outreach in elementary, middle and high schools in the local area. She also worked with preservice teachers in completing their clinical experiences. A former middle and high school general science teacher in West Virginia, Jenny is currently working toward her doctoral degree in education from the University of Florida.