Education expert says robotics skills vital for kids

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Olivia Stone, one of the USC ieducate mentors currently working with the Arduino Mentors Project

With a more automated future on the horizon, all students should start high school with robotics and coding experience, says USC Education academic Natalie McMaster.

Ms McMaster founded the USC ieducate mentor program sending pre-service teachers from the University’s School of Education to upskill teachers already working in high school, primary school and kindergarten classrooms.

“Our students, who have often trained more recently in current technologies, are advising existing teachers how they can integrate robotics and coding into the classroom,” Ms McMaster said.

“This could be training them to teach kindergarten children to program basic command bots using arrows, or teaching primary and high school students to write simple programs and program using Arduino circuit boards,” she said.

Key primary school projects are currently happening at Mountain Creek State School, Mooloolaba State School, Talara State School and Baringa State School.  

She said primary school students with robotics and coding skills need to be prepared for high school programs that would ultimately make them more employable in future.

“These skills are vital because robots and technology are not going to go away,” Ms McMaster said.

“We need to be setting up kids for the jobs of the future. However, a lot of those jobs haven’t been invented yet and a lot of careers that children are aiming for might not be there in 10 years.”

As a physical education and information communications technology education specialist, Ms McMaster also advocates the need to balance technology with nature, exercise and play.

“A lot of our health education intersects with technology. For example, you can’t address student wellbeing now without talking about social media, cyberbullying and mental health,” she said.

“It’s also important that we continue to incorporate children’s health and wellbeing as we prepare for this automated future.”

Top tips for balancing technology with movement at school:
1. Encourage active play at recess and lunch times.
2. Teach coding concepts using unplugged activities which incorporate movement instruction - this can be done outdoors.
3. Set up technology at stations around the classroom rather than seating children at desks.
4. Offer fit balls to sit on or stand-up desks, so children are not sedentary.
5. Use virtual reality to encourage movement in a virtual environment.
6. Use kinetic software where students use body movement to explore virtual worlds.
7. Continue to value physical education as part of the whole school curriculum.

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