Power of Storytelling in STEM learning
Oct, 2016- April, 2017
ROBOTERRA provides robotics learning classes to K12 students. I was fortunate to be part of the team in which we built our own curriculum and online learning platform from scratch. By the time I joined, robotics education was still a niche market and there weren’t a lot of great education product for us to learn from. Yet for an education product to succeed, it’s important that it has quality content for students to consume. With an instruction design background, I took the role of creating education content for first 25 lessons on learning platform CastleRock, which set the tone for future curriculum in the system.
Robotic kits which allow students to design and build the mechanical part of their robot, and CastleRock learning platform.
Once connected with laptop, CastleRock serves as an Integrated development environment for students to write program that control movement of robots.
Before CastleRock, all robotics learning happen in class. It was a traditional learning model that lasts for hundreds and thousand of years. A teacher lecture and demo, students show up and learn. It was effective, but it relies a lot on teacher quality and it’s not scalable. The company decides to launch an online learning platform so that students, regardless of where they are, can learn programming and build their own robots at their pace.
We have had our pilot program at a local high school in Shanghai. Students are intrigued by robotics, which include programming and mechanical design. In particular, programming appears to be a cool skill that many people want to have, but during survey and interviews with students, I learned that plain written language in our handouts and technical jargons can be intimidating. Once they do not follow at first, they’ll lost interest and have a hard time catching up later on.
Handouts with terms and exercises can be hard to engage students
In addition, there are several other problems I found during site visits.
Hard to Keep Attention
Since robotics learning is new to many students, they get over-excited when first getting their robotic kits. Students start to have discussions between each other and dismiss teacher’s instructions.
Difficult to Pair
Our first version of robotic kit’s brochure lists out what’s in the kit, but the plain list makes hard to browse. Students spend a long time pairing name listed and the actual parts in the kits. This also further distract from listening in class.
No Step-by-step Guidance
Students learned and understand the concept in class, but they sometimes get frustrated finishing an assigned task just by looking at a finished example. This can happen because completion of final task is done by finishing a series of small sub-tasks, which they learned already. However, how to break the big task down to a series of small ones might not be easy for new learners.
What adds on to the frustration is that students are not rewarded along the way of completing the final task.
Also, any small errors such has typo, putting a comma in stead of dot, can leads to bugs and this is difficult to be found by students themselves. I shared these findings with the team and proposed a gamified, step-by-step learning path. The team were onboard with it and this sets the foundation of how the UI looks in CastleRock.
Proposal 1 Task breakdown
Provide step-by-step instructions to make sure students are given enough scaffolding along the way.
Proposal 2 Gamified Learning Path
The online learning platform allows student to learn at their own pace.
To start, I worked closely with product engineers to design a curriculum structure with our intro lessons in our learning platform.
Since the online learning platform might be used anyone, ranging from high school students to 10 year old kids, the content needs to be polished so that it’s simple and clear to convey complex concept.
During classroom observation, I found out that using analogies is a very effective teaching techniques to help new learners to understand abstract terminology. I applied the same in the gamified learning system.
Finalized syllabus for Intro sessions
Paced out challenges that explain concepts
Content in rest of the 18 challenges are intentionally blurred
The curriculum was designed and written in two languages, with some tweaking when language is switched. RoboTerra have students in two countries with different cultural background, I want to make sure that analogies are not lost in either context. After CastleRock was launched, we have a few students from elementary school sign up for classes in RoboTerra’s learning center. It was well rated by parents. The platform serve as an instructor and many kids are so involved after class.
Working as a startup in early stages mean a person can be a generalist. I also do event planning and support when we have hold robotics competition and demos at school. I designed event supplies and free giveaways such has posters, forms and badges.