Is Our Children Robo-Learning?

Yesterday, Mike admirably made a pledge to blog once per day here on the Launch Pad. I hope that you all will keep him to that pledge, and maybe even help him out a little bit. Speaking as a sometimes blogger, I'll let you know that we really appreciate it when you chime in with comments, or when you pass along links to the blog or the post via Twitter, email, Facebook, or anything else. It really helps provide some extra psychological energy to make that next post. Also, suggestions and requests about what you'd like to read are really helpful!

I won't even claim to be able to match Mike's blogging prowess, but I'm going to do my part to make sure I chip in and add to the dialog as best I can.

Today, I noticed that Eliot Spitzer--yes, that Eliot Spitzer--has some interesting comments in his new blog over at Slate. The key graf from a piece about needing key investment in the USA's future:

In education—just as much a part of our infrastructure as bridges and roads—here is a small investment that is one of my favorites: Provide funding for robotics teams at every school. If you ever want to see intellectual competition in the arena that matters today—technological wizardry—visit the robotics competitions that now exist in some schools. Make these competitions as universal as football. Make it cool to design the next cutting-edge video game or iPod.

That paragraph seems to be the one getting the most mileage in terms of follow-on commentary and linkage from other blogs of note, and I couldn't be more thrilled. After all, it's a great idea, I think.

I'm big on robotics competitions, for obvious reasons--after all, I'm running what is perhaps the biggest robotics competition of all time. I'm also a big fan of other competitions like BotBall (which we helped sponsor last year) and FIRST (for which we helped inspire this year's theme). I think they have a wonderful impact on students and, as such, are a superb investment in our future.

One naysayer disagrees:
"Technological wizardry" is well and good, but at many schools, kids would just like some new books, functioning heating and air conditioning systems, and qualified teachers. A stimulus plan should address our needs before it tackles our fantasies. Not that I'd really expect Eliot Spitzer to keep his fantasies in perspective...

I can't really take issue with the cheapshot at the end--hard to resist when discussing Spitzer--but I do take issue with the sentiment. Now, I'm all in favor of new books and functioning climate control for our students, but let's not set up straw men here. Even in these tight economic times, it is not accurate to portray those as the only two choices--fund basic short term educational needs versus fund longer term educational investments!

Pierre-Damien said...

I couldn't agree more, we need to make technology look cool!! It is very cool indeed, so why is it so that gambling (oups, I meant "trading") hundreds of billions of public spending appear so much cooler??

Let's make it so that every kid's wildest dream is to be part of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, to eventually set foot on the Moon him/her self!

neubjr said...

I echo these sentiments. Its too bad that the post's message is muddled by the background of Spitzer, but hopefully enough people can pick up on the theme that something can be done to bring these kinds of programs to more schools. They truly are amazing. Students will learn so much more by participating in these kinds of events rather than sitting in a lecture style classroom day dreaming because they are so bored.

William said...

Thanks for the comments, y'all! Glad to hear I'm not alone.

I should also point out that the Conrad Awards are another great example of what I'm talking about--that's not a hands-on robotics like the others mentioned in my post, but it is still encouraging "technological wizardry". So, kudos, neubjr! = )

QuarkSpin said...

The effort to find (good) robotics information for students is minimal! Jumping off from the Robotics Alliance website ( ) you can easily find great websites like this one ( ) that serve as a wonderful starting point for learning robotics. Having led several "robot cooking" sessions myself, I can testify that kids learn much more when you engage as many of their senses as possible - and robotics crosses several disciplines. The "hands on" approach works, whether it is time spent in the classroom or as an after-school activity.

BTW -- I wonder if the naysayer ever got involved in a local school, other than paying required fees for their child and attending open house. Hmmm...

William said...

Great resources, James. Thanks for linking!

And I'm intrigued to hear about your "robot cooking" sessions. I smell a guest-blog! ; )

Paolo Amoroso said...

Okay. Let's pretend, as the naysayer seems to imply, that you can't use limited resources for both addressing school needs and encouraging technological wizardry. By all means do use available money for "new books, functioning heating and air conditioning systems, and qualified teachers".

It turns out you can still have fantasies. Encourage a Crazy Cheap Idea: equip robotics teams with salvaged PCs, open-source software, scrapped parts/chips, etc. The "make it cool" thing is even chepaer because it requires just a change of attitude.

Let's have fun and see whether naysayers can actually put their money where their mouth is.

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