Magazine article AI Magazine

RoboCupJunior: Learning with Educational Robotics. (Scientific Challenge Award)

Magazine article AI Magazine

RoboCupJunior: Learning with Educational Robotics. (Scientific Challenge Award)

Article excerpt

The RoboCup-2002 Scientific Challenge Award went to work that examines the educational value of RoboCupJunior (Sklar, Eguchi, and Johnson 2002). In 1998, Lund and Pagliarini demonstrated the idea of a children's league for RoboCup, using robots constructed and programmed with the Lego Mindstorms kit that could play soccer (Land and Pagliarini 1998). Since then, RoboCupJunior has evolved into an international event (Krose, Bogged, and Hietbrink 2000; Lund and Pagliarini 2000; Sklar, Johnson, and Lund 2000), where teams of young students build fully autonomous mobile robots to compete in one of three challenges involving a curriculum-based, student-driven approach, each requiring a different level of sophistication (figure 1).


The dance challenge is an entry-level event. Students build robots that move to music for as long as two minutes. Creativity is emphasized. It is possible to participate using simple robots that only employ motors and no sensors. The event is exciting and innovative. Some children even dress in costume themselves and perform alongside their robots.

The rescue challenge is an event where one robot competes at a time. The field is white, and the robot is required to follow a black line through a simulated disaster scenario, along possibly uneven terrain. There are no dynamic elements, but accurate control of the robot based on light sensor readings is essential and surprisingly difficult.

The soccer challenge is an advanced event. Two teams of two robots each play on a special field, 150 centimeters by 75 centimeters. The floor of the field uses a gray-scale mat, and the ball is an electronic device that emits infrared light (Lund and Pagliarini 2000). The rules of play were developed from the RoboCup small-size league.

The popularity of RoboCupJunior is self-evident, but one must ask, What are the students learning from these activities? It would be too easy to say that because the students are interacting with technology they are learning something worthwhile, but this appeared to be the conventional wisdom in the early days. Today's researchers are questioning this stance (Healy 1998; Reeves 1999; Snyder 1994). The goal of the work presented is to question the "obvious" relationship between robotics and educational outcomes, attempting to identify and quantify the educational benefits of RoboCupJunior. Rather than focus just on the technology itself, the work examines the overall learning environment that results when groups of students participate in team robotic activities. The results of studies conducted at RoboCupJunior in 2000 and 2001 are presented.

RoboCupJunior-2000 involved 40 teams of children, ages 8 to 19, from Australia (38 teams), Germany (1), and the United States (1). Twelve of the teachers who entered teams were interviewed, with the general stated goal of investigating the educational value of RoboCupJunior. This study revealed remarkable consensus of opinion among the teachers. RoboCupJunior fits in with existing robotics curriculum; is highly motivating for participants; advances both academic and personal development skills; teaches teamwork and tolerance of others; and appears to attract girls into robotics as well as boys. The RoboCupJunior competition itself is a motivating factor, particularly because it is an international event, it imposes an absolute deadline (that is, the date of the conference is fixed), and it gives young students an entry-level role in the complex and stimulating field of robotics research in an exciting context--alongside the senior RoboCup competitors, some of the top robotic scientists and engineers in the world.

At RoboCupJunior-2001, 25 teams participated from Australia (10 teams), Germany (5), the United Kingdom (2), and the United States (8). The students ranged in age from 7 to 23. Mentors, as well as students, were interviewed. They were asked to consider 13 specific skills and indicate whether they felt their involvement in RoboCupJunior had helped or hurt each of these skills, or if there was no effect (figure 2). …

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