Promoting problem-solving strategies through robotics activities in MINT mobil for primary school students in cycle 2.
MINT mobil is an initiative of the “Bildungsdirektion” in the Canton of Bern, which invites students in cycle 2 from third to sixth grade to spend a week experimenting and researching in a playful way with STEM topics, i.e. topics from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Behind this is the long-term goal of getting children excited about technical professions and reducing the lack of skilled workers in the Canton of Bern.
MINT mobil has started its tour in August 2021. The goal is to make an exciting learning experience available to every school in the canton up to and including the 2027/2028 school year. In terms of content, the MINT mobil is equipped with six subject areas (Electricity, Energy, Bodies, Optics, Substances, and Robotics). It includes a truck, a tent with 14 experimental stations, and a collection of 13 MINT class boxes containing the materials for the week’s accompanying lessons. It is a week in which the timetable is ideally suspended and the atmosphere is brimming with an exploratory spirit filled with experimenting, wondering, tinkering, testing, checking, but also an occasional frustration and perseverance, but finally pride and joy when solutions are found and things start to work.
A team of the EPFL Center LEARN (Sophia Reyes, Evgeniia Bonnet, Francesco Mondada, Jessica Dehler Zufferey) in collaboration with Urs Wagner of the PHBern designed a “Mars Station” in the tent and a “Moon Mission” as a computer science MINT box. Children take on roles of engineers who have the task of controlling various experimental systems with robots on Mars and Moon. At the end, pupils solve a large collaborative mission with the Thymio robot. During the week, skills needed to solve the mission are developed step by step in small groups. Children do not only learn about real problems in computer science. They also immerse themselves in the specific way of thinking and working using digital tools like the robots. All this happens in a playful and child-friendly way.
After an initial deployment phase of one year, the “Mars Station” in the tent and the “Moon Mission” of the computer science MINT box are studied in a research project. Researcher Susanne Grabowski wants to know whether the offerings really help to acquire competences in computer science for third to sixth graders. Do the offerings support the acquisition of competences for so-called “Computational Thinking”? What should be improved or adapted in terms of content? What must be re-thought completely or prepared differently for better didactics?
The project will be conducted in five phases:
“Computational Thinking” includes skills in analysis, abstraction and anticipation, error detection and correction (debugging), decomposition and pattern recognition, modeling, formalization and algorithmization, and finally, the ability to automate processes. The question is always: How do things get from the real world and from the mind into the computer? How do we have to abstract models so that we can formalize and transform them into programs that can be understood by humans and computed and executed by computers? And how can we, by using computers, see the peculiarities of problems in a new and different way?
The children are confronted with typical computer science tasks for which they are supposed to find and test subject-specific solutions. In general, the question is how complex problems can be solved in a way that it can even be done by a computer or by a robot. What can be thought and learned with support by computers and robots relevant to real-life situations? How exactly do the children deal with such settings? These are guiding questions addressed in the current project.
We observe how the current offering meets children’s problem-solving strategies and support them in specific ways to develop their skills. In the project, we closely collaborate with teachers and conduct field-tests.
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