Robo21C opening address

Good morning everyone. Dr. Camilleri, thank you so much for inviting me to deliver the opening address of this seminar. It is a great honour to be here amongst friends and colleagues in my final year as Director.

I chose to do the opening address of this event by going back in time. Way back when the Internet was in its infancy, when there was no Facebook, Google was still an embryo and search engines were still competing on who would win your screen.

I was in my first years as a primary school teacher when I bought this book for my classroom library.

robotics book1983

Robotics published1983

New Technology: ROBOTICS published in 1983. There were two images in the book that had really caught my attention but I had no means of getting such a “toy” for my classroom.

First page: Floor Robots

First page: Floor Robots

Floor robots:  Where would I use it? How would it fit in my lessons? Remember that I was still using chalk and blackboards at that time.

A few years later I found myself teaching ICT in a secondary school and by then I had been captured by the ideas and philosophy of Seymour Papert. I had seen a picture of him with a floor robot very much like the one in the book. Constructivism and constructionism became a joy and part of my professional development.

robotics book1983 Pg38

Build your own robot!

I do not remember the year, but it must have been in the mid 90’s that I came back to this book and thought that it was high time that my ICT lessons got the real turtle since we were using Logo as part of our lessons. This was also way before ICT became an ECDL lesson.

So to cut a long story short, I built the very first floor robot in Malta. I have no way of knowing if it was the first but I guess it was since I never heard of anyone who also claims to be the first. And here is the relic from my past.

robotics book1983 the Robotv2

It came with its own program in Basic for the BBC microcomputer; 750 lines of instruction which I had to tweak to be read by my Commodore64. I did not dare connect this to the school computers. I was afraid of blowing things up since I did not understand one tiny bit of what the electronic components were doing.

I used this during one of the school’s open days, where we had this spring fair during the weekend every year. I have nothing to show as proof, but I must say it was a huge success with students and their parents. It could follow simple commands like moving in a square or rectangle, and for the savvier, it could make a triangle and also go in circles.

And back to the present! We now have this: The Blue-Bot.

bluebot

Blue-bot

 

We have come a long way from the primitive, homemade, stone age relic to the sophisticated Blue-Bot which is “Bee-Bot’s big brother who can do everything Bee-Bot can with an exciting addition–Bluetooth communication.” Which comes with a tablet app to remotely control the bot.

 

 

So we have come a long way (from the Stone Age architect to the Renzo Piano of our time). But how far have we really come?

You must have heard me say this on other occasions: it is not the hardware that is important but the “headware.”

When you walk into schools today you see a lot more technology in the classroom: Interactive flat panels or interactive whiteboards, now tablets in Years 4 and 5 but unfortunately, the whole approach to education has not changed very much from my first time in class more than 40 years ago.

Most of our teachers are still holding on to old ways of teaching and learning even though we are surrounded by technology. We must remember that technologies can be used in many different ways. Some can really enhance learning and open up new learning opportunities, while some ways of using technology can constrain us to very traditional ways of learning. For me, the best way to think about the role of technology is whether the child is in control of the technology or not. I am convinced that the workshops prepared for us will prove that this can be done.

If the child is using the technology to design, to create, experiment, explore; that is a good use of technology. If the technology is only used to deliver information or the child is just pointing and clicking and browsing, that is wasting an opportunity. If technology is only used to deliver information than it is the same as the old scenario where the teacher is delivering information. That is not the best way to learn.

One last and final word to all of us educators; from teachers to SMT to EOs.

We need to support learning through projects, passion, peers, and play.

It is projects that we must focus on rather than problem-solving. Children will learn more if they solve problems in the context of a project. It is not just understanding ideas but to use ideas. That is what happens when a child is engaged in a project.

Back to Seymour Papert, who in his foreword to the book MINDSTORMS he describes his passion with gears and the mathematical concepts that he learned from them: how as a young boy he fell in love with gears. He explains that he was able to engage with new ideas because he cared about the subject. When children work on something that they really care about then learning takes place easily and effortlessly. Education must have less explanation and more falling in love with ideas.

Peers is when we come together and learn from one another. When I look back at my own teaching profession I find that I had always worked in a cylo. How unfortunate! How much better I would have been had I shared my ideas with my peers as a teacher. To be fair to myself, I did not have the same opportunities that we have today. The technology was not yet ready in the 80’s and 90’s to support sharing and collaboration.  eTwinning, for example, was not yet born when I was still in the classroom. Platforms like eTwinning are a great opportunity to network with other teachers and for students to learn from each other and to share their own achievements.

Fortunately, we have a small number of teachers who understand the importance of networking. I would like to see that number grow! Let us celebrate and support what they are doing.

We need to let students play with ideas, to explore ideas, to wrestle with ideas; this is described as hard fun in MINDSTORMS which means that the students are helped to challenge themselves as they experiment and push the boundaries.

We have the tools. Let us use them.

Dr. Camilleri, thank once more for this opportunity! And thank you for lending me your ears.

 

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