Reflections on Summer Robotics Workshops with ABC CREATE

by: Colleen Smith
Penn State New Kensington

What do teachers do on the last days of summer?  Sign up for a robotics workshop - with their own kids!  Teachers with kids often cherish the time in the summer with their families and are hesitant to pursue professional development opportunities as they don't want to lose that precious time.  At ABC CREATE, we invite the kids to join in!  It's a win-win.

For the past two summers, ABC CREATE has hosted Hummingbird Robotics trainings in August that have involved teachers learning alongside their kids and creating Arts & Bots projects together.  We adopted this approach last year when a teacher asked if she could bring her son.  The ABC CREATE teachers who led last year’s training (Sue Mellon from Allegheny Valley and Michelle Thomas from Kiski) were happy to have kids in the mix, so we opened up the session to allow all attendees to bring their school-aged children.  It worked beautifully! We knew we had an idea worth repeating, so we did it again this year.

Kelsey Derringer, from Birdbrain Technologies, facilitated both our Hummingbird Robotics with micro:bits and our Finch Robot sessions in early August 2018.  When we first discussed what the training sessions would look like, I asked if she'd be willing to allow teachers' kids to attend. She was very receptive to the idea and maybe even a bit intrigued.  We went for it, and it turned out so well that I even agreed to write this blog post about it. 

photo: Nico Segall Tobon for Remake Learning

Observations and Reflections:

  • It was very helpful for the teachers to watch how their kids and other teachers’ kids in the room absorbed the robotics experience.
  • Some of the teachers noted that they thought kids learn differently.  As digital natives, the kids had no fear of “hurting” the technologies.  While that was a bit off-putting for the teachers who approached robotics with a bit more hesitation, it was also gratifying for them to realize that the students in their classrooms would take to this easily and that, as teachers, they wouldn’t have to be the experts in the room.
  • We had some great reflections on the growth mindset.  Several of the kids in the room had experienced robotics and/or coding before while many of the teachers hadn’t.  Once we opened the discussion to experiences and not to innate abilities, the educators (and some of the kids for whom this was new territory) were able to acknowledge that they may not be moving along as quickly because these were ideas that they hadn’t been exposed to … YET. 
  • Watching the kids (and some were elementary aged) thrive with robotics, encouraged the teachers.  “If a 4th grader can do this, so can I!”
  • The kids were very comfortable in the creative technology space.  They were quick with ideas and not afraid to figure out how to make them work.  It was okay when it didn’t all work perfectly in the time we had to build. 
  •  Both teachers and kids were quite proud of their creations and their coding skills – and very interested in learning from one another’s creations.
  • It was lots of fun watching teachers ask kids and kids ask teachers for help in working something out.  Not all the teachers had kids with them, and the exchanges of information and support were sometimes within the teacher-parent/student-child groupings and sometimes beyond from a teacher to another’s child, from a teacher to a teacher and from a student to a student.  The unspoken realization that all were bringing skills and creativity to the table in mutually beneficial ways was quietly powerful. 
  • Teachers could quickly see the progression of learning with robotics, coding, and engineering.  Having a group of mixed ages and experience levels really allowed the teachers to see possibilities for differentiation and for building upon skills.  Kids and teachers who had prior experience with Hummingbird Robotics were able to move forward with more advanced coding (some even moved to text-based coding) and with more complex mechanisms and engineering skills. 
  • Teachers appreciated getting to test out their own learning while simultaneously observing student learning.
  • Not every teacher-parent/student-child pairing proceeding perfectly throughout the day; even in those moments, the culture in the workshop was one of learning and reflection.  I heard discussion of what they learned about working together and how they might do things differently next time. Gotta love the opportunity for iterations and the growth mindset – in all its forms.
  • When adding kids in to the mix, be sure your menu includes some pizza.
  • Having kids engaged in the professional learning for teachers does require the presenter to be very thoughtful and to be prepared to accommodate the perspectives and goals of both audiences.  Carefully developed reflection prompts and classroom integration discussions that address both sets of learners can add depth and dimension to the experiences for everyone.

We were lucky enough to have a photographer visit us during one of our August trainings (thanks, Nico), and when I look at the pictures, I can feel the moments.  The moments of discovery, collaboration, creativity, pride …. Not bad for a professional development in August.  And not a bad way to spend some time with your kids before summer’s over, either!  

Learn more about ABC CREATE here.