Educational Robotics in Italian Schools

Earlier this month I was on an Erasmus+ visit to our partner school I.C. Toniola in Pisa who are one of the three Italian schools in “Our Digital Journey in Europe” project. Schools in Italy like here at home in Ireland, are also embarking on a new Digital Strategy in education. During the visit I had an opportunity to visit a number of classrooms in the primary school and the lower secondary school and see at first hand teachers and pupils using robotics for collaborative learning. The Instituto di BioRobotics in the Scuola Superiore Saint’Anna has set up a local Educational Laboratory on Robotics and is working with a number of primary  and post-primary schools in the Tuscany region. Among the robotics technologies that we saw in use were the Bee-Bot and Pro-Bot in the primary school, Cyber Robot and Sphero in the lower secondary school.

It was very interesting to visit a class of the First Grade and see the pupils using the Bee-Bot in the primary school. One group of children start on an Educational Robotics programme as soon as they begin in school. The Instituto di BioRobotics in the Scuola Superiore Saint’Anna are also conducting some research to measure the effects of their implementation of the Robotics programme on the pupils’ learning. Another group are given a period of time to settle into their new school environment before starting their Robotics programme. The researchers are interested in finding out whether they will find any differences in the effects on pupil learning between the two cohorts of pupils being studied.

The Bee-Bot has seven buttons – forward, back, right, left, clear, pause and Go. The Bee-Bot can remember up  to 40 button commands entered by pupils so it can carry out quite sophisticated programmes. The Bee-Bot will stop, bleep and blink after each step has been carried out which adds to pupils interest and motivation when using the robot.

On our visit to  the fifth grade primary class we saw pupils working in groups of four using the Pro-Bot. The Pro-Bot is the Bee-Bot’s bigger brother. The pupils were using the Pro-Bot for teaching their robot the different steps to draw basic 2D shapes such as squares, rectangles, triangles etc. Pupils can programme it directly using the arrow and number keys to create their own programmes. The Pro-Bot has front and rear touch sensors, a light and sound sensor and a pen receptor where pupils can insert a dry wipe pen so that Pro-Bot will draw regular two dimensional shapes that pupils have programmed.
Pupils using the Pro-Bot can create their own procedures. Pro-Bot has slots for 32 procedures that can be edited and configured by the pupils. These procedures can then be called up when writing programmes, so different groups of pupils could write different parts of a complex programme. You can find further details on the possibilities with the Pro-Bot by following this link here.

On our visit to an Eighth Grade class in the lower secondary school we saw pupils programming and using the Cyber Robot. The Cyber Robot is a robot kit that pupils can assemble and control via Bluetooth from an Apple IOS/Google Android phone or tablet using Clementoni’s Cyber Robot app. At its simplest level pupils can control the robot via the app using the tablet/phone as a remote control. Also included is an electronic card with buttons which the pupils can use to manually set the route to be followed by the robot.

The final piece of educational robotics kit that we saw pupils using was the Sphero and the Lightning Lab app which is available for Apple IOS, Google Android, Amazon Kindle and Google Chrome. The Sphero is a robotic ball that can be programmed using the Lightning Lab app via Bluetooth 3.0 that has been installed on a suitable phone, tablet or Chrome based laptop. Sphero has its own microprocessor, accelerometer, gyroscope and rechargeable lithium batteries. Battery life is one hour once fully charged which is done by placing Sphero on an induction charger. Users are advised to take care when using Sphero as the robot can travel at speeds of up to 4.5 mph when set on full power. The Lightning Lab app uses a blocks interface for pupils to drag and drop actions, controls and operator blocks on their screen. The code that has been written can also be seen beside your block sequence if users want to become familiar with the C based language that Sphero uses.

Pupils in primary or secondary schools using educational robotics will have lots of opportunities for developing their problem solving skills  in mathematics and science in particular but in addition pupils can use robotics for project work in all other curriculum subjects.

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