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PCS Edventures (Academy of Robotics reviewed, multiple kits offered)

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert John Ervin

Although the Academy of Robotics is complex set of science activities, it can be a hit in an afterschool program. There are several keys to remember when considering this program. First, it does require a substantial initial investment. Second, the instructional leader must have a strong background and interest in hands-on science and robotics. Much of the success of the Academy of Robotics will depend on the teacher who leads it and that teacher's ability to manage the group of students and extend the lessons beyond the units covered. If implemented well, this program can appeal to participating students and encourage them to think systematically and creatively.
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This reviewer focused on materials in this package called the Academy of Robotics. It would be useful material to offer students in an afterschool science program. The Academy of Robotics offers students a chance to explore the basic foundations of robotics and mechanical engineering through lots of hands-on activities. The program encourages students to build models, design experiments, and solve problems through a set of projects that students will find fun and compelling. These appealing activities will motivate students to attend the afterschool program every day (consistent attendance is often problematic) so that they do not miss a new section of this program.

Each unit begins with history of the topic that they are to explore that day. For an example, the first Robotics unit introduces the term "robot" and provides information about when that term was coined. After the history lesson, the students brainstorm and define elements of robots. The students are encouraged to keep a journal of all the things they do in connection with the robotics program. This helps them maintain a record so they can refer to their notes if they discover a flaw in the robot design they develop.

The robotics program consists of several group activities that direct the students to interact in groups to solve problems together. For example, in Unit 2, the unit on robotic vehicles, students work in two teams representing rolling robotic vehicles and walking robotic vehicles, respectively. The teams attempt to operate on two tracks: one that is straight and another that consists of many twists and turns. The students on the rolling robotic team have to lie down and roll the flat course while the students in the walking team have to tie their legs together in a three-legged-race fashion and go through the turning course. Timers keep track of the time it takes to complete the courses, and then all the teams discuss the contest to figure out which method resulted in the fastest time for the course and why. I think that these materials will both entertain and teach participating students useful information about modern robotics.

Perhaps the most appealing attribute of this robotics program is that the students learn by doing. The activities offer more interactive and group learning than students typically have in their classrooms during the day, yet they are also learning skills and building robots based on designs they create. It is important to note that this program requires an instructor with a science or engineering background. This could pose a problem for many afterschool providers. The Academy of Robotics curriculum requires an initial investment, but the LEGO and other components are durable and should last for several years.

Overall, the Academy of Robotics program could be a useful part of an afterschool program. It stimulates the students' creativity and encourages them to ask questions and find the answers they need to make their robots work the way they envision them during the design process. This curriculum can supplement the science that students study during the traditional school hours. In the curriculum guide there are references to state science standards but during the Robotics Academy, they have the chance to delve much more deeply into aspects of the standards that are largely absent in most classrooms.