May 1, 2008

Assistance to Teachers and Schools

Readers,

I've received some emails and calls recently, some in response to discussions started at World Festival two weeks ago and some just out of desperation. Let me summarize the issue here and see if our readers can offer some assistance. While I'm speaking from a USA point-of-view, this discussion certainly has equal concern around the globe.

While FLL is growing and the NXT is constantly being integrated into new classrooms, there are probably more schools that do NOT have access to this technology than schools that do. Some of the issues that have been brought up:

* There are cost barriers - How can we make certain that every school that wants an NXT kit in the classroom can get one? Apple had (or still has) the "An Apple in every classroom" - how could LEGO and/or LEGO Education (L/LE) do the same? Could corporate entities be given a way to sponsor a school or schools? How about individuals? What is in place if I should decide to donate $250+ to "buy" a kit for a school in need?

* There are language barriers (the NXT and software only support English, French, Spanish, and German, I believe) - How could the books, websites, software Help files, and more be more easily translated to other languages? Again, could corporate support fund this? Would L/LE provide source documentation for translation and download to those countries that need materials translated?

* Most teachers didn't major in Computer Science - how can we expect teachers to integrate robotics into their math/science curriculum without some sort of formalized training or more user-friendly documentation? LE is probably stretched thin as it is to offer classes and training to teachers in their respective areas. Where are teachers to obtain training so they, in turn, can pass along those skills to students?

* There are limits to student participation - whether it's the FLL team size of 10 students or just a logistical limit based on class size and availability, how can we ensure that every student who wants to participate in either competitions or math/science classroom projects has equal access? Some schools have one (1!!) NXT kit to go around... it would be interesting if we could figure out the average number of students per NXT kit, but I won't hold my breath. The real question here is how can we make sure that every school has a sufficient number of kits to satisfy classroom demand.

* Is the private sector aware that its future is tied to technology in the classroom? - More and more jobs are requiring a higher-level of education and/or technical-skill level. Many kids grow up being as comfortable holding a computer mouse as they are holding a toy. But again, not all kids. Many corporations are involved in sponsorship, mentoring, and funding of technologies in schools, but again, not all schools are so lucky.

The NXT community is a sub-group of the larger LEGO community, but the level of technology offered by the NXT has the potential here to, quite honestly, make a bigger change in a single student's future than any other LEGO product (IMO). At a minimum, the NXT could spark students' inquisitive natures and instill an urge to learn more about other subjects. Specifically, the NXT can inspire students to dig deeper into math and science (which always seem to be lagging in interest according to the media) and encourage them to pursue engineering studies. But, back to the purpose of this post, there is not equal access for many different reasons.

Advice? Thoughts? Solutions? Please share them here as comments or in the Forum section that I've started here. I've started a new section in the forum where education can meet up with private sector. If you know of grants, scholarships, or sources of funds, please share them. If you know of companies that are extremely supportive of schools, please share that information. If you know of resources, books, websites, or other media that can help teachers, students, parents, and school officials, let us know.

Thanks.

7 comments:

Dave Parker said...

Another problem is finding the right kids. In particular, building with the NXT set is tricky, and many FLL teams struggle to get started with it. See my thoughts and suggestions on this issue as a topic in the forum Jim linked to.

Damien Kee said...

This is a topic that is really close to heart. I honestly believe that the key here are the teachers. There has been research that shows that the careers students pick are largely formed in the middle years of schooling, influenced primarily by their teachers.

These teachers need support in both materials and ongoing training / professional development to show how robotics can be relevant in the classroom.

Unfortunately most industry is yet to see the benefit in investing in students of such an early age. We are just starting to see some companies take interest in Senior school students but by then most kids have made up their mind as to what course they are going to pursue. More comments in the forum.

damo

Rick Rhodes said...

Damo,

Could you point me to research indicating that career "imprinting" goes on in the middle school years?

My son is HIGHLY interested in programming and IT development--and he's only 14! (His IQ is 150+ and, trust me, he didn't get it from me).

He wants to take advanced programming and IT-related classes at a vocational school. His mother doesn't want him to "track" himself too early, but this is what he wants to do. (He's also into music performance and choral singing, so he'll be a well-rounded geek). :)

Research about how middle schoolers make their career choices at this age would reassure his mom. (She's supportive of his career direction, but needs reassurance).

Thanks,

Rick

Jim Kelly said...

For almost 10+ years I worked as a camp counselor for 2-3 weeks each summer with the middle school age range. I don't have any research to back up my claim, but I agree that this seems to be the age group where we can win them or lose them when it comes to encouraging education. It's a tough age, and I've seen how encouragement of this age group can work wonders when the move into the high school years.

Damien Kee said...

Rick,

Some links in the forum.

damo

Noah J Revoy said...

As an FLL coach and someone who is directly involved in the organization of the FLL (in Portugal) I think I can help to answer some of your questions.
Please note that these are my own opinions and not the words or ideas of FIRST or LEGO.
LEGO has but the following responsibilities: To manufacture an excellent product, distribute it in the markets they desire, support it responsibly, and treat there own employes and partners ethically. They do a great job on these points.

Your first ideas are great. My suggestion to you is to contact FIRST (www.usfirst.org) and volunteer to help implement your ideas. These types of programs rely on the good ideas of volunteers like yourself.

About the cost: $250 is cheap for a robot (however I would recommend the LE set with the expansion). If you have 5 kids on the team then divide the cost between them and have each kid raise $50. If they really want to participate they can raise the funds. Student fundraising is part of the FLL experience.

The language barrier is slowly being dealt with. Now the new software ships with even more languages. Also, in this day and age if you dont speak English your chance at a technology job is very limited in any country. English is the lingua franca of the technology and science world.

The NXT was designed for 8 year olds, if a teacher cant figure it out, well... Every professional needs to become computer and technology literate, or become obsolete.

The only limits to student participation is desire. It just requires motivated students with competent coaches. I know schools with one official FLL team and 10 other teams that just share the materials but don't go to competitions.

Yes the private sector is aware that they need to do something. Even the governments are somewhat aware of the need. I urge everyone who believes in the power of these programs to write a letter/email to there local/state/federal government to encourage them to support the FIRST LEGO League. Then write FIRST and ask to volunteer. If we cant convince ourselves to participate how can we convince someone else?

Noah J Revoy said...

If you already are an FLL volunteer than congratulations. Keep up the good work. :) :)

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