Robot sumo wrestling: students participating in elementary school technology education
Students of Aalto University run robot clubs for elementary schools' pupils. In these clubs, pupils find out about Lego robots' senses or prepare for Finnish championship matches in robot sumo wrestling. The idea behind is to bring more creativity and innovativeness into elementary school teaching with the help of technology education.
"We are looking for ways to improve teaching with the help of information and communication technologies. Robotics is one of the tools of technology education", Tiina Korhonen, Vice Head Master of Koulumestari School, explains. Together with the Learning Center Innokas, the school co-ordinates the Robotti Ruttunen project, which includes schools, universities and other institutes throughout the country.
A pilot study is under way in a couple of Espoo schools. Two Aalto students are involved: Tomi Pieviläinen runs a robot club at Vanttila School, and Matti Leinonen does likewise at Tähtiniitty School.
Sumo wrestling and robot senses
Hectic preparation for April's RoboCupJunior competition is under way at Vanttila School. The pupils have formed three groups, whose robots compete for Finnish championship titles in sumo wrestling. Each robot fights another in an autonomous manner – when within the sumo ring, the robot is not allowed to be guided or touched.
“How the robot attacks or defends itself is based on the children's ideas. The robot must, among other things, stay within the sumo ring: in other words, it must be able to recognize the border lines of the ring. We program the robot to conform to this kind of requirements”, Tomi explains.
The club of Tähtiniitty School does not participate in the robot competition; thus get-togethers there are more informal.
“In addition to programming and building with Legos, we have familiarized ourselves with various sensors. These function as the robot’s senses on which its operation is based. Programming determines how the robot reacts, for example, to sound or how it estimates distances with the help of ultrasound”, Matti explains.
Learning by playing
"While playing with robots, children subconsciously learn, as they wonder how the things work", Matti tells.
"Programming teaches one to consider cause-effect relationships: for example, how code modification in a computer program affects a robot's behaviour", Tomi continues.
According to Tiina Korhonen, use of robotics is not limited to natural sciences, but can penetrate all study subjects.
In these clubs, we can learn inference, group work and problem solving. Also how to perform and how to present one's own work are practiced. As a technology, robotics is a tool and not an end in itself", she explains.
Teaching improvement and pastime activities
"I want to provide meaningful teaching for the most advanced students. They want to learn things that are more demanding than the time allows in normal hourly-based teaching", Tomi points out.
Tomi and Matti want to provide the children with an opportunity for technology practice.
"In schools and outside them, many different kinds of clubs, for example clubs related to arts or physical exercise, are offered to children. However, availability of pastime activities related to technology or mathematics is very limited", they explain.
"I myself would have liked to attend this kind of club as a child", Matti admits.
Robotti Ruttunen returns the visit to Aalto University on Thursday, the 3rd of May. At the TUAS house (Otaniementie 17) there will be an event where the most advanced robot club members will present their know-how. Also robots built by the Department of Automation and Systems Technology will be there. The event welcomes the staff of Aalto University, students and also all outsiders who are interested in the activities.
Text: Anni Aarinen. Photos: Tähtiniitty pupils, photographer Matti Leinonen
Robotti Ruttunen is a part of the Innokas project that brings creativity and innovativeness to schools with the help of technology education.
The objective is to improve and spread operation models with which schools, teaching methods and sense of community can be developed in a varied manner with the help of information and communication technologies. Learning and inspiration in innovative schools happens through playfulness, co-operation and investigation.
The project participants are Aalto University, Media Centre of the City of Helsinki Education Department, Teknokas - University of Oulu, University of Helsinki, University of Eastern Finland, Robocup Junior organization, SciFest and Finnish Parents' League.
There are 37 schools from different parts of Finland participating. The project is co-ordinated by the Learning Center Innokas and Koulumestari School in Espoo.
RoboCupJunior (RCJ) is an international robotics tournament for children and young people. Competition takes place in three different domains: soccer, dance and rescue. In addition, Finnish RCJ hobbyists can try their skills also in robot sumo wrestling. The RCJ organization organizes competitions locally, nationally and internationally.
RoboCupJunior Finnish Championship will take place between 19th and 21st of April 2012 in Joensuu in connection with the SciFest event. In 2013 the championship will be held in the Helsinki metropolitan area.