Aug 15 2016

How Robots and Other STEM Tech Can Be Used in English Class

Here are three ways that language arts teachers have used innovative tech to support their curriculum.

When it comes to literature, robots can be more than just the plot of an H.G. Wells novel. English teachers around the country are finding new and interesting ways to incorporate robots, such as Sphero, and 3D printers in their classrooms.

A 2014 report from Kevin C. Costley, a professor at Arkansas Tech University, found that when technology of any kind was incorporated into classrooms, students were more motivated, engaged and confident.

“Technology is a powerful contributor to learning if it is used to deepen student engagement in meaningful and intellectually authentic curriculum,” says Costley.

These three examples show how some unexpected technology has enriched the traditional English curriculum.

1. Machines Can Create Relevant Connections

One of the reasons Jessica Herring, a teacher at Benton High School in Arkansas, has used the round robots made by Sphero is because it brings her class up to date with today’s world.

“For someone like me who teaches literature by lots of dead white guys, teaching programming adds relevance to my class,” Herring told KQED News.

Herring also told the news site that for a project on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, she had her students program the bots to represent the journey of a character. Students collaborated on programming the Sphero to illustrate a chosen character’s storyline. Herring said this allowed her students to “make that connection between writing and programming.”

2. Technology Helps in Analyzing Characters

For Dan Ryder, an English teacher at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, using technology in his class goes hand in hand with teaching students to think analytically.

“I’m teaching them how to write and how to read. I’ve just found if I take the approach of what’s the best practice for English teaching, I’m blocking out a whole bunch of transferable skills,” Ryder said in an article on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) website.

According to the article, Ryder has his students prototype a tech-based solution as part of their character analysis. MPBN reported that students in Ryder’s class have to design and create a solution to a problem of one of the troubled characters in Romeo & Juliet, using littleBits and a 3D printer. Examples of their solutions included a sensor network to detect fighting between the Montagues and Capulets and a heart monitor for Romeo that can alert him when he’s making an irrational decision.

3. Robots Aid in Establishing Empathy

In an effort to get his students to relate to the impoverished and put-upon Joad family of The Grapes of Wrath, KQED news reported that New York state teacher Richard Perry built a mountain out of AstroTurf that his students had to program a Sphero to traverse.

Benton High School teacher Jessica Herring first used the robot when the students in her class were reading the writing of early U.S. settlers, KQED reports. To help the students understand the treacherous passage to the New World, she had them program Sphero to navigate a maze she placed on the floor.

“The conversation we had afterwards about these explorers coming to the New World was really amazing,” Herring told the news site. “They went from piloting these robots to talking about these bigger ideas and having this empathy for people in history.”


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