Application of Playful Robotics to Advance Cognitive Development and Meaningful Learning Among Early Learners

Application of Playful Robotics to Advance Cognitive Development and Meaningful Learning Among Early Learners

Mary L. Meadows, Basiyr D. Rodney
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6888-0.ch014
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Purposeful use of interactive media and technologies like robots are effective tools to support learning and development for young learners. Computer-based microworlds promote student agency and can enhance technology learning in early learners. Robotics is an established way to foster cognitive engagement and hands-on exploration that leads to learning. Playful robotics engages computational thinking and problem solving through the application of programmable robots and manipulatives. In this chapter, the authors explore the cognitive implications of playful robotics with kindergarten students. Social and emotional skills are also considered with respect to the value placed on peer collaboration. The study described in this chapter contributes to the understanding of how young children learn computational thinking and subject-area integration with robotics via play and exploration.
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As the world continues to advance and be transformed by digital technologies, consideration must be given to the importance of advancing children's learning through technology-based play. An approach that relies on learning by playing with robotics can advance the field of early education in many ways. In this chapter, kindergarten children are engaged with playful robotics in a constructivist environment as the researcher captured student interactions throughout the duration of the study using a video camera at scheduled intervals. The study emphasizes cognitive development, life skills, and social interactions that contribute to the learning process. The study involves a content analysis designed to answer the question, Do playful robotics investigations in kindergarten promote cognitive development?

Playful robotics enhances children’s and teachers’ engagement with novel types of concrete technologies that can prepare early learners to engage with more abstract concepts. This area is important with research just emerging (NAEYC, 2019; Paciga et al., 2017; Pila et al., 2019). Similarly, playing with robotics can reinforce ongoing cognitive development in early learners. Robots, like other types of interactive technology, allow for creativity, imagination, reflection, and wonder. These are important learning design aspects when considering the use of technology for early learners (Donohue & Schomburg, 2017; USDOE & UDDHHS, 2016). Playful robotics also encourages the development of learning by doing and executive function in young learners. A playful approach to robotics finds its root in constructivist thinking and dates back to pioneering efforts of constructionism as articulated by Seymour Papert (1993).

Although policy often articulates the importance of children engaging in creative play (NAEYC & Fred Rogers Center, 2012), this approach is often marred by an adult-directed perspective. It is important to support the development of young children as creators and makers rather than merely as passive consumers. Careful consideration of the learning environment, interactive materials, and methods of instruction can optimize early learners’ sense of agency and control within the scope of their playful learning. Children can see themselves as learning alongside adults rather than simply being directed by them.

Learning environments supportive of playful interactions amongst students with a teacher as a co-learner promote positive cognitive skill development for the students. By acting as a co-learner with young children, a teacher can demonstrate the role of a partner in playful situations. Through observation, questioning, and discovery, children designate the pace of learning. Through their agency, they allow for time to build knowledge through meaningful inquiry. This play-centered approach differs from a more direct instruction where a teacher prescribes the learning process.

In taking on a shared role, teachers support rather than direct the children's learning. Teachers recognize that their role is not to transmit knowledge by telling students what robots to create or how to play with them. Teachers come to the table as supporters of the children's learning; they aim to “sustain them and not suffocate them with the preconceived transmission of ideas” (Cagliari, 2017, p. 5). Furthermore, collegiality among teachers and children is an important aspect of learning. Kroll (2015) posits that “the sense of wonder about the world can be modeled by the teacher allowing children to articulate their own questions and wonder” (p. 12). Role sharing is critical to students’ learning processes in playful robotics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Meaningful Learning: Knowledge and skills gained through authentic experiences with playful interactions with peers.

Model: A model represents both physical and mental attributes and deepens understanding when used as an object to support critical thinking and reflection.

Microworld: A small environment constructed to represent real-world attributes based on personal view of reality.

Cognitive Development: Development linked to the graduated levels of understanding associated with an area of study.

Playful Robotics: Self-directed, unstructured robotic construction and manipulation with peers in the context of a microworld.

Robotics: Programmable machines and models capable of performing actions based on symbolic representation.

Play: Engagement in open ended, autonomous work that is viewed as purposeful and fun.

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