We are the Robots

While trolling through some old files today I happened upon this video of some Lego robotics projects done by my Year 10 students about five years ago. I recall that their task was to build a sort of merry-go-round device that conformed to a few specific requirements. From memory it had to have provision for two “seats”, and when a start button was pressed it had to rotate around align the first of these seats with a loading platform, pause, and then rotate to align the second seat. Once both seats were “loaded”, it had to pause, then start rotating slowly, then get faster, until it reached top speed and did a specified number of rotations. Once these were complete if had to slow down again to a stop, aligning the first seat, then pausing again and finally aligning the second seat.

Here’s the video…[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/eYUOfaFEJF8″ width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

It was an interesting exercise. The girls (it was an all girls class) initially struggled with the idea of gears and motors, and it took them a while, and a bit of guidance, to figure out just how a motor would be able to make something turn like a merry-go-round. I had come from an all-boys school the year before and was really struck by just how much more easily the boys seemed to find the mechanical part of this task. I don’t mean to sound sexist, but there really does seem to be a huge difference in the innate mechanical abilities between boys and girls. The boys didn’t hesitate to grab the motors, gears and cogs, and within minutes, most of them had rudimentary vehicles constructed. The girls, on the other hand, seemed to vacillate for ages before even wanting to pick up the Lego, and when they did, they took quite a lot longer to build any sort of device, much less one that was at all mechanically “correct” or usable.

However, once the girls got started, I found they came up with a much more interesting and creative approach to problem solving than most of the boys I’d taught. Perhaps this comes from a naiveté and a less developed understanding of what was “right”. Whereas the boys seemed to know that certain combinations of blocks and gears would not work, the girls seemed to be more able to just try things whether they worked or not.

Thinking about this now, some years hence from when that video was made, it reminds me of a book I read called Paradigms, by Joel Arthur Barker. In this book, Barker contends that some of the best problem solvers are those who are outside the prevailing paradigm… outsiders who, to the experts, “don’t really understand the question”. But it’s this not really understanding the question that leads to some of the most creative solutions to many previously “unsolvable” problems.

If you think about it, many of the best thinkers, the most inspiring leaders, and the people changing the world the most, are those who least fit our conception of who we expect them to be. Look at the Albert Einsteins, the Pablo Picassos, the Steve Jobs’s, the Richard Bransons of the world… the square pegs in round holes. People who challenge the status quo because they don’t know that what they are proposing is completely unrealistic. Most of the innovation and creative flow in our society comes from those who don’t know that what they don’t know doesn’t matter. So they invent the future anyway.

As educators, we have to make sure we don’t educate the creativity out of kids. I’ll finish with a link to a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, who expresses this notion far better than I could ever hope to. Every teacher – no, every person –  should watch this video…

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://youtube.com/v/ga2CYYCrtNE” width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

CC BY-SA 4.0 We are the Robots by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

3 Replies to “We are the Robots”

  1. Hi Chris, I love the video by Ken Robinson and find myself watching at odd times to remind myself of what you have said just now about creativity (not educating the creativity out of the kids). Even at the risk of letting the kids think your classes are a bludge cos they’re having fun.

  2. Hi Jo, yes, it’s one of those goosebumpy sort of videos that every time I hear it I think about how I can be better at what I do with kids. And it makes me realise just how opposed the system really is to what it purports to be about.

    It’s interesting that whenever you hear of a teacher (or anyone really) getting acknowledged for doing something amazing, it’s very often something that was done in spite of the system, rather than because of it.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Reading this post made me think of Ghandi. Who would have imagined a man who refused to fight making all that difference? and Nelson Mandella… These are people who didn’t fit but thought differently and changed the world. We don’t want children coming out of our classrooms who can’t find different ways to think about the world.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?