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Educational robotics for the formation of

programming skills and computational thinking in


childish
Yen Air Caballero González Ana García-Valcárcel Muñoz-Repiso
University of Salamanca University of Salamanca
Education Faculty, Education Faculty,
Paseo de Canalejas, 169. 37008, Salamanca, Spain Paseo de Canalejas, 169. 37008, Salamanca, Spain
ycaballero@usal.es anagv@usal.es

Abstract— Currently, the education sector has been sustainable action over time and with a optimal use of
transformed because of the incorporation of information and resources.
communication technologies as a valuable support for the
formation of digital skills and significant learning. In this article, In this framework of social action driven by digital
we present how educational robotics can be integrated into a technologies, educational robotics (RE) is strongly
school environment allowing the achievement of curricular incorporated, making it a highly valuable resource since it
objectives and the development of programming skills and facilitates the learning and development of general skills such
computational thinking. The study was oriented towards a as the socialization, creativity and initiative, allowing
population of 131 students of early childhood education, participants can propose an efficient and effective response to
belonging to a concerted educational center of the autonomous the challenges and problems that arise.
community of Castilla y León, during the 2016-2017 academic
period. It describes the resources used, the teaching-learning The research that is linked to this communication is
activities developed and shows what was the acceptance currently under development and is based primarily on the
expressed by teachers and students about the incorporation of training of computer programming skills and computational
educational robotics in the classroom. thinking, in early school students, using ICT resources and
programmable educational robots.
Keywords— educational robotics, programming skills,
computational thinking; constructionism; children's education. In this sense, section II of the article describes the
theoretical framework that underlies the study, presenting an
introduction to educational robotics and the pedagogical
I. INTRODUCTION currents that support its use in the classroom for the
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have achievement of meaningful learning. In addition, possible ways
contributed to the transformation of today's society, integrating of learning with robotics are explained.
devices, computer programs, forms and means of
Section III will be composed of the general and specific
communication as the main support in the development of
objectives proposed for this communication as well as the
economic, industrial, political and educational activities.
design of the interventions using the Bee-Bot robot.
In the educational context, several strategies have been
The results that were obtained by applying an attitude scale,
developed that have allowed to equip the study centers with
to know the acceptance that the teaching-learning activities
equipment and computational means. For example, in Spain,
had, in professors and students will be presented in the IV part
there is the School - 2.0 program [1]; in England, starting from
of this document and finally, in section V the conclusion is
the 2014-15 period, the development of computational thinking
included of the article based on the results obtained through the
and programming skills were incorporated into the curricular
practical experiences of the pilot test.
plan for primary and secondary education.
Meanwhile, in other countries the integration of II. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
technologies in the formal education system has been carried
out transversally. With the integration of ICT in the educational A. Educational robotics: origin of the term
field has put the cornerstone on which the training and
If we refer to the term robotics, it is essential to mention
development of computer programming and computational
Isaac Asimov, who used it for the first time in 1950 in his book
thinking skills in students will sustain, from an early age [2].
entitled "I Robot". In this work, reference was made to
This initiative seeks to provide society with individuals machines that in the future would be created with the aim of
trained not only in the use of digital technologies and carrying out activities that are developed by the human being,
resources, but capable of managing and leading productive later in 1967 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
activities through technological innovation in a framework of (MIT) was designed and built the first electronic device that
responds to a programming language [3].

978-1-5386-0648-3 / 17 / $ 31,00 © 2017 IEEE


Robotics has evolved from its beginnings to the present The constructionist theory has its genesis in constructivism
day, which has allowed its use in many areas of human and was developed by the Seymour Papert team at MIT.
endeavor. For example, in research, in the military field, Papert's constructionism "gives learners an active role in their
industry, medical applications and more recently in the learning, placing them as designers of their own projects and
education sector, promoting the development of several builders of their own learning" [8].
initiatives for their incorporation into the curricular plans of
Likewise, Papert affirmed that: "learning is much better
several countries. The application of robotics to the educational
when children engage in the construction of a significant
field gave rise to the emergence of the discipline called
product in the external world, simultaneously they build
educational robotics, among some definitions we can mention:
knowledge inside their minds" [8]. What he argues, is that
"... is the set of pedagogical activities that support, strengthen knowledge is achieved to the extent that the individual interacts
specific areas of knowledge and develop skills and with the object of study; in this sense, the technology and in the
competences in the student, through a process of conception, specific case the RE allows this interaction that Papert sustains.
creation, assembly and start-up of robots ..." [4].
Similarly, another author argues that the RE "is intended to put C. Learning and Educational Robotics
into play all the ability of exploration and manipulation of the Educational robotics allows the design, construction and
knowing subject in the service of the construction of meanings development of learning environments through which
from their own educational experience" [5]. participants can achieve a correct appropriation of knowledge,
from the abstract to the tangible. In this sense, the participant is
B. Pedagogical aspects the main actor in the construction of knowledge about the
object or phenomenon under study.
Educational robotics finds its main pedagogical links in the
theories of learning formulated by Jean Piaget "constructivist Robotic based learning environments represent, "an
theory of learning" and that developed by his pupil Seymour experience that contributes to the development of new skills,
Papert known as "constructionism" [6]. new concepts, strengthens the systemic, logical, structured and
formal thinking of the student" [9].
The constructivist theory of Piaget's learning establishes the
division of thought into two distinct types, these are: physical The integration of educational robotics in the teaching-
and logical-mathematical thought [6]. The first consists in the learning process can be developed through several approaches
knowledge of the objects of an external reality, its properties or [10], one of these is to adopt it as an object of learning, a
characteristics. second approach would be as a means of learning and finally as
a support for learning.
The logical-mathematical thinking refers to the
coordination of the relationships that occur between objects As presented in [10], the first two approaches are oriented
and actions. Piaget argues that it is possible to favor this to the construction and programming of robots, using various
thought through classroom experience, both with the objects tools such as: gears, sensors, actuators, programming languages
and through the relationships that occur between peers and and others.
with teachers.
Today, most of the educational strategies involving
Piaget argued that cognitive development will consist of a educational robotics, are in these two approaches, through the
series of stages and sub-stages [7], characterized mainly by the realization of activities such as: robotics competitions (local,
type of structures that are built in them Figure 1. regional and international), training of robotics club in the
study centers and learning groups with an extracurricular
orientation.
The potential of robotics as an innovative educational tool
has allowed some governments to take the initiative to
integrate it within the curricular plans of the education systems.
What is sought is to develop in student’s skills such as: the
programming, teamwork, creativity, collaboration and
computational thinking.
In this sense, as they show [10] [11], some of the countries
that have opted to make changes to the teaching-learning
process including initiatives with educational robotics and
programming are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia,
Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and England.
In some others, the strategy has been to provide educational
centers with the necessary technological conditions to achieve
the development of digital skills in participants, an example is
Figure 1. Diagram: cognitive development according to Jean Piaget. the School 2.0 program [1], which was developed in Spain
since 2009 and that has allowed the equipping of the school
classrooms with: digital whiteboards, projectors, computers
and educational software; as well as the training of teachers in The attitude scale used for teachers is a Likert scale [12],
the field of educational technology. with 5 points (very disagree -1, disagree -2, indifferent -3,
agree -4 and strongly agree -5) with 10 items or statements
Recently, the incorporation of activities related to created ad hoc for the study.
programming and educational robotics has been achieved
through robotics clubs, extracurricular training and In the case of the students, since learning of reading and
participation in competitions such as the First Lego League writing has been initiated, the Likert attitude scale [12] was
(FLL) which is an international challenge that arouses the adapted, using images or icons, for better understanding. Three
interest of young people for science and technology. Some possible values were used (disagreement -1, Neutral -2 and
autonomous communities that show some progress in this agreement -3) see Figure 2.
regard are: Madrid, Extremadura, Comunidad Valenciana,
Navarra, Galicia, Cataluña, Castilla y León.
As we see the use of robotics as a support to learning is an
area that is taking great strength within the educational context.
This approach will allow the development of the curricular
contents of a specific area, using programmable robots adapted
to the age of the students. The participants will take a more
dynamic role in the construction of their own knowledge and
the teachers will be guides and facilitators of the learning of
their students. Figure 2. Attitude scale used with students.

The research on which this article is based is specifically


oriented to the use of robotics as support for the development D. Population
of curricular content in the level of early childhood education, The population on which the study will be developed will
generating an attitude and motivation that produces significant be formed by a total of 131 students of early childhood
learning and in parallel the development of programming skills education in the period (2016-2017) belonging to the Maestro
and computational thinking, very necessary for a successful Ávila educational center, located in Salamanca, autonomous
performance in the so-called information and knowledge community of Castilla y León. The students are distributed as
society. follows: 42 students in first of kindergarten, 40 participants in
second of children's education and 49 students in third (see
III. OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY Table I).

A. General objective TABLE I. DISTRIBUTION OF STUDENTS


The study or research that will be carried out has as a
general objective: to carry out the design, integration and Quantity
Education level Totals
evaluation of educational activities mediated by ICT and Girls Boys
programmable educational robots in initial education students, First 19 23 42
achieving the development of programming skills and Second 17 23 40
computational thinking. Third 26 23 49
Subtotals 62 69 131
B. Specific objectives
This document refers to some specific objectives that make
up the study or research, these correspond to the following The teachers who will participate in the research will be
actions: those directly linked to the educational level, making a total of
8, for the same academic period as the students.

• Establish which was the acceptance of the teachers


when incorporating teaching activities using the Bee-
E. Description of Experience
Bot educational robotics kit for the development of
curricular objectives. To introduce educational robotics to children, there are
currently several technology tools at the programs level, and
• Describe the attitude of the students when incorporating physical devices. As a result, the Bee-Bot educational robotics
learning activities using the Bee-Bot. kit was chosen, taking as a valid reference the results presented
in a survey on resources used to introduce coding in schools
C. Methodology [13].
To achieve the objectives of this work, a quantitative Bee-Bot is a floor robot that represents a bee, presents the
approach was selected, using a questionnaire for teachers and typical colors of a bee and a design that combines subtlety and
another for students with an attitude scale. safety for handling and use by young children (see Figure 3).
To use it, there is a series of buttons on the top of the robot that
allow programming the sequence of movements that the robot IV. RESULTS
will perform. About the first objective presented in this communication,
we can establish that the attitude expressed by the teachers was
positive. The average of the answers was obtained, generating
a value of 4.6, which is very close to the 5 that corresponds to
the option very agree, in the attitude scale used. The
distribution of the answers to the question related to the
usefulness and satisfaction observed by teachers on the use of
educational robotics and the Bee-Bot kit for the development
of teaching activities and the achievement of curricular
objectives, is reflected in the graph of Figure 5.

Figure 3. Bee-Bot robotics kit.


Bee-Bot can move with great precision in steps of 15 cm,
make turns 90 degrees, and can remember up to 40 steps in a
sequence. The robot is powered by a battery that is charged by
connecting to the USB port of a computer, providing the
necessary charge for a full session of activities [13].
To achieve a favorable acceptance of the Bee-Bot robot as a
teaching-learning tool, a combination of audiovisual resources
such as videos, posters, graphics was used. All these resources
contributed in the learning of the characteristics and Figure 5. Acceptance of educational robotics for the achievement of
components of the robot. curricular objectives Bee

The first practice activity with the students was to color the On the other hand, the application of the attitude scale to
graphic representation of the Bee-Bot robot (see Figure 4), with the students showed a marked positive attitude regarding the
this it was intended that the students become familiar with the use of the Bee-Bot robotics kit for the development of learning
kit and see it as an element close to them and part of the activities in the classroom. Regarding the 131 students, 126
classroom. responded that they agree to learn with Bee-Bot, while 5
expressed a neutral attitude in response.
Once the appearance and physical characteristics of the
Bee-Bot robot were known, the students performed practices
on the movements or displacements that can be made with the V. CONCLUSIONS
robot; for this a mat or rug designed to work basic movements We believe that the results obtained in the first
with Bee-Bot was used; displacements in the directions interventions or pilot test are a good starting point allowing a
forward, backward, left turn, right turn, stop and advance. more in-depth experimental study to be carried out in the
population, which will generate valuable data and information
In the research phase corresponding to the educational
about the integration of educational robotics activities in
intervention, the students worked the content related to spatial
children's students. It would be important to be able to carry
organization (see Figure 4), laterality and directionality.
out tests using more areas of curricular content, as well as in
Additionally, practices were carried out on the concept of
other educational centers; allowing to generalize results and
number and quantity.
strengthen the design of a proposal for educational action,
based on the benefits and limitations found.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Yen Air Caballero González has a grant from the National
Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation
(SENACYT) and the Institute for the Training and Use of
Human Resources (IFARHU), of the Republic of Panama.
Likewise, our gratitude to the Department of Infant and
Primary of Maestro Ávila School, located in Salamanca,
autonomous community of Castilla y León, Spain.
This research work has been carried out within the
Figure 4. Practical Activity 1: Coloring Bee-Bot. University of Salamanca PhD Programme on Education in the
Knowledge Society scope (http://knowledgesociety.usal.es).
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