NewTechKids spent the day in beautiful Haarlem, teaching students at the Beatrixschool. Our challenge: teaching students in two classes about programming in the context of automation with LEGO Mindstorms robots.

One class developed appliances aimed at reducing the workload of families while the other reimagined robots who could take over monotonous or dangerous farm work.

While one-off classes aren’t our preferences, these classes serve an important purpose. They allow us to teach kids who have little to no previous experience with programming and robotics and see how quickly they adapt to three things:

1. Learning a new subject, namely the role that automation and programming play in technological innovation.

2. Practising an ‘innovator’s mindset’ which values creativity, experimentation, testing and failing in order to prototype and improve a tech prototype.

3. Experiencing a 21st century learning process during which they take the lead in their own learning process, not their teacher.

Some general observations:

  • Within a two-hour class, all students (working in pairs) were able to build a prototype using LEGO Mindstorms. Ninety-nine percent were able to also program a working robot.
  • Many girls lagged behind in design and building skills (often they weren’t raised to play with LEGO or building tools) but ultimately, they created amazing robots. We compensated for their lack of design and building skills by providing them with step-by-step instructions on how to build basic robots. This tactic speeds up their ability to create basic robots so they can focus more on thinking about the functionality of the robot and how to program this functionality. For example, one team of girls initially designed a basic robot with vertical ‘blades’ for clipping trees. They later moved the blades to be horizontal in order to create a hay cutter which could cover more land.
  • Having students work in pairs and small teams is an effective way to make sure that all students participate in the learning process. The sense of teamwork and collaboration was strong and less intimidating for students for which programming and robotics are new subjects. We were also pleased to see that the more advanced students (mostly girls) were happy to help other groups once their own prototype was finished.

Thanks to Beatrixschool for having us. There is a lot of future tech talent in its halls.