Meet Nao, IIL’s new teaching assistant

8 October 2016

For over 25 years, IIL has been observing how robotic applications can enhance teaching and learning for all age groups. The recent acquisition of two humanoid Nao robots, dubbed Bonnie and Clyde, has opened up new horizons for the school.

IIL took its first steps in the field of robotics in the 20th Century when Lego Mindstorm robots were introduced into the classroom. Students and teachers engaged in a range of projects which led to recognition at the Cité des Sciences de La Villette and at MIT. Spurred by this experience, the school has continued to make use of innovative tools to explore progressive teaching methods. Younger children learn basic and intuitive coding with Thymio, developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Beebot, while two app-enabled robots, Ollie and Sphero, both iPad compatible, are geared to use by older students.

The interest in robotics as a teaching-learning technique far surpasses a simple familiarisation exercise in robots as such. Robotics are an ideal introduction to coding, especially as the code itself can be connected to the real world. Using robots as a focus for classroom projects helps children to develop problem-solving skills and to understand the benefits of trial and error. Their versatile nature means that robotics can be used across the teaching board, in disciplines as varied as Sport, Music, the Arts and Experimental Science.

The humanoid robot Nao takes reflection in the classroom environment to new levels of complexity whereby students can experiment with modular building, opening up new possibilities and strengthening the link with the real world. Nao’s unique capacity to provide feedback sets the stage for students to design programmes which not only influence its behaviour but which can interact with its very environment.

The introduction of Nao has a strong influence on teaching and learning, changing the position of the school in terms of its approach to problem-solving. Coding has previously been used mainly as a means to learning through reproduction, in situations where the end results are already known. With the help of Nao, the school is encouraging students to take on new challenges and to face up to as yet, unsolved problems. Inevitably, the role of the teacher is undergoing changes as the school as a whole pushes the boundaries and new horizons are opened.

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