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Robotics and the NGSS

Four toys related to robotics that people may remember from childhoodIt’s been more than 50 years since The Jetsons came into living rooms and promised viewers things beyond their wildest dreams. Of course, not all of their predictions have come true yet, but since the show is set in 2062, science has quite a few years to catch up. Still, the world is pretty futuristic these days. Maybe you don’t have a car inside a briefcase, but you probably have a computer, a calculator, a jukebox, a camera, several books, video games, mail, and a flashlight all in a telephone in your pocket. And while you don’t have Rosie to vacuum your floors, you probably own, or know someone who owns, a robotic vacuum.

In fact, when you think about it, robots are everywhere. A robot almost certainly helped to assemble your car, and your latest order from Amazon was likely moved around the warehouse by robots. Maybe you have eaten at the new Boston restaurant where robots do the cooking. If you have been a patient at the UCSF Medical Center, it is likely that your meals were delivered by a robot and your prescriptions were filled by a robotic pharmacist. You may even know someone who has bought a robo-pet—be it a cuddly robotic kitty to keep a senior company or a robotic dog to load the dishwasher.

Where Is Robotics in the NGSS?

With so many robots already in the world, surely robotics is the way of the future. Yet, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) make no mention of robots at all.

Maybe robotics is not a science, maybe it is more closely related to math, you might be thinking. The reality is that robotics seems to exist in a world of its own somewhere between math and science, since it is not covered by the Common Core math standards either. So how are educators to ensure that they are abiding by their state’s standards while still preparing students for the world ahead?

A search for robotics in the Common Core yields no results

Aligning Robotics Lessons to the NGSS

Of course, NGSS and Common Core do not prohibit using robotics in STEM lessons, and there are many ways to align robotics lessons. Many of the NGSS include taking appropriate measurements, for example:

  • 4-PS3-2: Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents; and
  • 4-PS3-1: Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

Whether these are measurements of sound, brightness, temperature, or distance, there are sensors that students can use to create their own measurement-taking robots.

In lessons about natural resources or converting energy from one form to another, students could design a robot that uses solar energy as its power source, addressing these standards:

  • 4-ESS3-1: Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment;
  • 4-PS3-4: Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another; and
  • HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.

Several of the NGSS asks students to conduct an investigation or develop and use a model, which could be fulfilled by designing and testing a robot:

  • MS-PS4-3. Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.
  • HS-PS3-5: Develop and use a model of two objects interacting through electric or magnetic fields to illustrate the forces between objects and the changes in energy of the objects due to the interaction.
In robotics competitions, students are engaged in open-ended and authentic problem solving as they program a robot to navigate an obstacle course.

Students program a robot to navigate an obstacle course (U.S. Air Force photo by Zade C. Vadnais)

Social Impact of Robotics

Also, don’t forget that humans interact with robots, so as robots become part of our culture, there will also be a need for innovative social studies lessons. You only need to revisit Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics to imagine the social impact of future conversations with Rosie’s descendants.

So not to worry—educators can include robotics in their classrooms while fulfilling the NGSS, and by the time 2062 rolls around, maybe their students will be the scientists who finally make camping on the moon a reality. In the meantime, Victory has worked on everything from lesson plans and assessment items to robotics tutorials for technology companies, so if you need help assimilating robotics into your curricula, just let us know!

Further Reading

Mimio blog: Computer Coding and the NGSS Standards
The National Academies Press: Engineering Design in the Next Generation Science Standards
NSF: Computer Science Is for All Students!
Edsurge: Why Computer Science Belongs in Every Science Teacher’s Classroom

About Morgan Turano

Morgan is the Senior Science Editor at Victory Productions. With over ten years of laboratory research and editorial experience, she has also taught kindergarten and college chemistry classes. She holds master’s degrees in chemistry and writing.

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