Thursday, January 9, 2020

Living and Learning with Robots… NOW!

Living and Learning with Robots… NOW! 

How do today’s young students understand the potential of robots in their world? Actual robots, that is, robots they increasingly will encounter in their home and neighborhood, in the world of work and commerce, and in school, as well.

Along with a teacher colleague, Dr. Rose Reissman took on this powerful, relevant and very timely foray into bringing a controversial and important real world theme into Language Arts and Social Studies oriented learning activities.

At Ditmis Middle School (Brookly, NYC) Reissman collaborated with Ms. Amanda Xavier to introduce the topic Xavier’s 4 ELA 6th grade partnered classes. These include three enrichment classes and an ICT group.  

Here’s quick rundown of what the 2 educators did with the students. This short segment is followed by Reissman’s in-depth article on how colleague teachers everywhere can similarly bring this important approach to their students.

First Session: The topic was connected thematically with the 1950 Ray Bradbury short story ‘The Veldt’  which focuses on children's addiction to a multi-sensory telepathically controlled "nursery" with lethal consequences to the parents of the children.

In this context the students in the first lesson considered whether they would want to have their younger siblings buy an actual 2020 product –MIKO 2 the playful robot that is a friend to younger children and gives homework help.

The students were pre-assessed about their views on this topic.  They talked about it .
Next they watched a MIKO commercial video (YouTube) and were asked to focus on how the family in the video interacted with MIKO  as well as the child and the ways the company used music and visuals to highlight the positives of this technology item that is currently for sale to all.

The students then discussed their reactions to this video and finally were given the varied project options to do, samples of which were provided.

Second Session: Ms. Xavier’s 4 classes were then discussing whether robots are useful would be cost effective in filling some job openings at their middle school, as well as the extent to which, as sophisticated middle school students they would like or could adapt to a well programmed robot instructor as sole educator or as part of a resource ICT team or collaborating with Ms. Xavier as do I.

As part of this experience They will see videos of actually in implementation, teaching robots at work with students in classrooms in different parts of the world .

The project the students will do will be a poem or story or poster or PSA/commercial for or against robots as teachers.

The three 6 th gradeclasses of Mrs. Francis, also ELA at this school, had the same lessons but not connected to literature. One of them is an ICT class with many ESL students.

Mr. Guardino is currently doing the same two parts described above with his  605  ELA class; no connection to Science Fiction.

Mr. Carideo is infusing a single lesson on MIKO into his coding and programming robotics class. also a 6th grade.

Ms.Cataldo is doing the two part topic (above) with her ESL self contained class 7th graders with a spread of English reading levels. The use of the videos made the topic immediately accessible.

Interestingly, Tte ESLstudents felt the robot could help younger siblings with English assignments and free up older siblings to do their own work.

Mark Gura, Editor

Living and Learning in an Increasingly Robot Filled World!
How teachers can engage students, grades 4 -12, in considering the education, and life impacting possibilities robots offer-
 By Dr. Rose Reissman

Look up and around you, robots are here… in school and everywhere. For ELA  teachers- video clips featuring a programmable robot toy, robot tutors and companions; and horror of horrors, classroom teaching robots; are not some slick take-off on movie fiction, but rather, recognizable, documented use of robots in current, actual use.
A growing number of secondary and elementary schools strapped for cash or short on enrollments at specific sites, have begun using robots as teachers of content and methods.  Families and educators  use robots that are very affordable-to train and support students in understanding pet and even friendship relationships.  Indeed, various companies offer what amounts to a child grade and age appropriate Siri or Alexa home assistant- always there, as is its adult counterpart, with positive reinforcement and help.

While there is no debate that these finely designed robots as teachers or as supports can immerse the students in learning content skills  with actual outcomes and if tapped at home provide the robot support that so comforts adults; is it good for a child to have a friend at the end of the day who has a set of programmable responses and moods  or will a robot teacher be able to respond to the differentiating instruction and social and emotional aspects of teaching as well as do human teachers?  Does this truly ready the child for developing human lasting friendships or short lasting ones that end with a whimper or a bang? Can a robot teacher also provide life lessons and the human connection some of today's students facing social-economic, immigrant, special needs learning and trauma in their personal lives, so need from an educator?
Does having a small portable robot who emits lifelike barks and nicely simulates small dog moves and sounds plus can be programmed to show recognition for the owner/controller, train the child to be a nurturer of a small canine or feline being who poops, emits sounds endlessly, begs, and shuts down when he or she feels like it, not the owner often controlled by the pet?

What the robots who are ALREADY here among us and a strong force, allow for – is their use as the catapult platform for engaging students in the big questions and ideas that are the stuff of deep learning and understanding and thinking so crucial to thriving in our 21st century.

These essential questions speak beautifully to students who are middle and high school or beyond, since from the level of their comparative maturity and their life experience with friendships and loss, they can evaluate the efficacy of these programmable pals and pets. They speak beautifully to all students who at the moment are overjoyed by the concept of robots they already adore from movies and Lego robotics steam course as their teachers.For middle school and beyond students:
Before viewing the digital excerpts:

Would you initially be happy to have a robot – with the same content mastery - replace your current human teacher or be part of a teacher team who already teach your class?
Explain your initial reaction and why yes or no.

If you needed help or had a question in that class with a robot teacher and a human one, which would you approach for help or to ask a question. Explain your answer.

There are  currently toys that younger children ages 5-8 can program as robot friends and as robot dogs or other pets. What would be the positives for the  children in being able to buy and to program these robot friends and pets? For each positive provide an explanation.

What would be the negatives for the children in these toys who as programmable as friends by them , would never cause them any pain as do friendships sometimes or disobey as do the most obedient live pets?  For each negative provide an explanation.

If you could buy one of these for a younger sibling or relative, would you do so?  Explain the reasons why you would or would not make the purchase.

View These Videos:
Here’s MIKO
William Recoppa on CBS 2 New York
After Viewing:   (Critical Media Viewing)
Would you want to be in William's class? Tell why or why not.  In what ways is William an effective teacher?  How would you improve William?  Why? Should William be improved?

In what ways as depicted in the excerpts, do each of the children benefit positively from the toy robot friend and the toy robot pet?

List the benefits as shown or communicated in each excerpt.

How do the media creators of each excerpt “stack” the positives to make the parent buyer want to buy the toy robot since it is not only “good” for the child, but also the family?

List these deliberate “sales” positives placed in each excerpt which is of course a commercial for the product?

As someone who is several years older than the target owner of these toys, do you find these “sales” positives convincing or not? Explain why.

Projects and Preferred Future Discussions/Explorations:
1.     ELA students can write opinion and argument essay piece point  positions on the Use of Programmable toy robots as friends or pets using their reactions to these excerpts and then one or two vetted secondary sources and asking their parents or adults.
2.     ELA students can read the prescient story “Robbie” (1940) written by Isaac Asimov which includes a girl developing a close relationship with a robot nanny who is then sent away.  They can compare and contrast Asimov’s point of view in this story with the perspective of the robot toy companies that produce these toys.  They can conclude with their personal perspectives. (Reading across print and digital genres).
3.     Students can have a podcast discussion arguing for and against programmable robot friend toys and invite PTA members, toy store owners, the school counselors, school psychologist and others to weigh in on this issue.  (Community Engagement)
4.     Students can work in an Inventions or a scratch class to design a powerful robot toy friend or robot toy dog that will be useful in helping students prepare for a human or live pet relationship. (Stem Engineering in Design Process)
5.     Students can develop “anti” robot toy friends commercials or PBAs or videos to counter these or interview younger siblings particularly those who have some form of toys like the ones shown.  (Media Literacy)
6.     Students can do market research and go through toy catalogs and ads as well as local stores to document already available and affordable toys like those in the videos and make a n online display or Power Point commenting on these various toys. (Business Marketing Research-Parcc)
7.     Students can examine how the first video seems to market to Latinos.  They can explore to what extent some of their native cultures and their America born families would never consider allowing young children to program toys as robot friends or pets. They can get family cultural and/or religious perspectives on toys as robot friends or pets.  (Culturally Responsive)
8.      Students can explore and analyze movie series such as the Transformers which certainly portray robots as human friends or consider Data from Star Trek and the famed Star Wars robot friends to consider how these unavailable in real world cinematic heroes paved the way for very affordable and programmable toys. Because  Data can be a very human empathetic pal, does that mean an eight year old should have a programmable friend whose words and gestures are pre-programmed by the eight year old and his parents? (Robots in Pop Culture).
9.     Students can enjoy creating online scratch scenarios or working with available programmable toys similar to the ones in the videos which their younger siblings have, to retell the film from the emotions or perspective of the robot toys-just as toy story is told from the perspective of non animate toys.  This creative revision of the excerpt might fictively reveal that the robot toys like the toys of toy story have “feelings: that are real.
10.  Finally in “The Veldt” (1950) Ray Bradbury portrayed two children aptly named Wendy and Peter who were so caught up in a telepathic “Nursery” immersive environment that they wished never to exit it and literally locked out their parents . The parents attempted to shut down the nursery and pull their children away from this addictive toy technology.  To what extent if any, might toys like ones in the videos, become too addictive for young children and stop them from making human friends and having barking live canine companions?
11.  Do you think within the next five years of your life there will be a mix of robot and human instructors in high school and college?  Why or why not? Use one piece of research to support your ideas.  Will you care if your instructor is a robot or a human or not care as long as you learn the material? Explain your response.
12.   Would you as career choice or as a researcher, want to specialize in robotic designs of robots as teachers or as child/teen home assistants?  Explain why you might want to do this work.
What is so intellectually rich and emotionally provocative in the discussion raised by these tech robot teachers, friends and pets, is that there is no single “correct ‘ answer for any student.  But the conversations and activities that can be generated by the robots already in prevalent use among us, are ones that are worth having and whose results may redefine teaching,  friendship and pet furrever families in the 21st century.

Staff at Ditmas Middle School involved in this project:
- Dr. Rose Reissman,  Amanda Xavier,  Dina Francis, Steven Guardino, and Mary Cataldo
- Also,  Angelo Carideo and under supervision of Marielena Santiago, 
Principal and Michelle Buitrago - Assistant Principal 
Ditmas Middle School is located in Community School District #20/Brooklyn - New York City Department of Education

Rose Reissman
is the founder of the Writing Institute, now replicated in 200 schools including PS 191 in Manhattan, New York City.  She is a featured author in New York State Union Teachers Educators Voice 2016 and was filmed discussing ESL student leadership literary strategies developed at Ditmas IS 62, a Brooklyn public intermediate school. Ditmas IS 62 is under the leadership of Marielena Santiago Principal and Michelle Buitrago AP. The Writing Institute Team are: Michael Downes, Angelo Carideo, and Amanda Xavier.


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