The Fourth 'R'

Apr 11, 2011 | Updated Jun 11, 2011

Would you consider any of the following fun to learn?

  • The formula for the circumference of a circle
  • Finding the slope of a line
  • Determining the coefficient of static friction between two materials
  • Finding the instantaneous velocity of a moving object
  • Physical meaning behind Newton's laws

Most people consider these as boring things that would only interest a nerd. What if I told you students of all ages from third grade to college are excited about learning hard core science and math? Unbelievable, but true, thanks to robotics. Robotics is an exciting field. It fascinates and engages people of all ages. It is truly a multidisciplinary area which combines mechanical, electrical, electronics and control engineering and computer science. Robotics is being increasingly considered as the Fourth essential "R" after the 3 Rs: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. In this competitive world, STEM education defines the underpinning of an advanced society. U.S. students have been consistently performing low in STEM education and one way to make STEM education engaging and meaningful is to use Robotics as the basic platform because all major STEM concepts can be taught through robotics.

What is interesting is the fact that even though robots are complex machines, today's technology makes it possible for even children to design, build and program robots. Building robots makes learning engaging, fun and meaningful. It provides a highly practical, hands-on experience. It helps to develop much needed critical thinking skills and problem solving strategies. Building robots help to understand abstract concepts in math and science. Robotics gives meaning to formulas and laws that students usually memorize without any understanding.

When working with robotics, students are immersed in the experience. Real learning occurs when learners are immersed in an activity, required to perform, and take corrective actions. Learner engagement, satisfaction, knowledge retention and competency mastery are achieved when students are involved and led through a guided discovery process rather than being "told" how to get the right answers. With robotics students learn difficult STEM concepts without realizing that they are intensively engaged in the learning process. Learning becomes a natural, fun process.

There have been many successful initiatives such as First Lego League, VEX Robotics World Championship and FIRST Robotics in the past decade. In order to make a real difference, robotics should be taught as a subject starting from third grade onwards. National Robotic week is celebrated from April 9-17, 2011. Celebrate this week to inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in STEM areas.