Why explorative learning is better for programming and robotics

I’ve just finished one of my iLearning sessions (robot building for kids in Bristol). Its been running for over a year now and so I’ve gotten to know the iLearning members quite well and vice versa.

Of course, as those who have worked with us know, we always, as much as possible take an explorative approach to teaching.

Let the kids poke and try and test and make lots and lots of mistakes and in doing so they learn so much and have loads of fun at the same time. They also start helping each other and sharing what they’ve done without prompting.

But what really stood out for me this session, was their confidence in both building new things, with parts and mechanisms they haven’t tried before, along with their ease in discussing and writing the programs for their robots.

Many of them used to avoid the programming at all costs, as it just seemed so scary.

Its absolutely amazing! The sessions are monthly, so they’ve made a huge amount of progress in a short space of time (bearing in mind the gaps between the sessions as well).

And the best thing? They aren’t afraid to make mistakes. It doesn’t matter that some of their ideas might be too crazy or bizarre to work in the end, they always, always try whatever comes into their head.

That is what computer science is about. Thinking of something and working out what hardware and software is needed and also how it fits together to make that thing work.

If it doesn’t work in the end, it doesn’t matter, because along the way all those mistakes turn into knowledge. 

Programming is about trying different pieces of code or instructions to make different parts of your idea or robot work. Then eventually combining them or building it up until you have the final solution. 

That’s how computer science should be taught in schools. I know there is always the issue of time and assessments, but sometimes we need to step back and ask do we want a generation that can pass exams and look good on paper. 

Or do we need a generation that think both logically and creatively to create the solutions that we need?