Critical Thinking with Robotics and 3D Printing

When you think of robotics and 3D printing at an elementary and middle school, you probably think they are high tech ways of having fun in the classroom. You are correct. You are also correct if you think they are opportunities to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills.

On a recent visit to the St. Mary’s Computer Lab, I had an opportunity to see our students in action as they were working with Lego robots. Working in teams of two, they were tasked with coding their robot to move a box an exact distance. When the robot stopped, the box would move forward ever so slightly. This slight movement would sometimes cause the box to fall ahead of the goal line. The student teams would discuss why that occurred and then make one or more adjustments to the code to successfully complete the task.

Since that day, our students have quickly progressed to successfully programming their robots to move through a tricky maze and to incorporate ultrasonic sensors. Think Roomba Vacuums.

What’s next?

The robots are now being programmed for a “search and rescue” mission. This task requires students to use various sensors as their robots move into different “rooms” to accomplish their mission.

Why do we have robotics at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School?

Robotics provides students with an opportunity to expand their technological knowledge while also strengthening important critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is required when each and every move the robot needs to make must be programmed. Critical thinking is actually required of all of us throughout our lives. Strengthening those skills helps us to process information more quickly, rationally, and logically and leads to improved decision making.

Critical thinking also comes into play for our newest technology addition in the St. Mary’s Computer Lab – a 3D printer. It reminds me of a microwave oven except it has spools of plastic string in it. It must also have some magnetic properties because our students are definitely drawn to it!

The 3D printer works with a design software program. Students design the item that will be printed and send it to the printer. If there is a flaw in the design, the students need to evaluate what happened and make the needed adjustments. Although robotics and 3D printing may differ, similar critical thinking skills are required for both.

We appreciate that we are able to increase technology opportunities for our students. I also appreciate that St. Mary’s does not incorporate new technology just for the sake of having it. We view technology as a resource to enhance and strengthen our learning environment. It’s a win-win.