AfL and Roamer

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Roamer and AfL – Natural Partners

How do Roamer and AfL work together to encourage good teaching practice?

Some Stories and a Challenge

For thirty years we’ve seen some teachers use Roamer and get brilliant results.  We’ve witnessed others not do so well.  Why the difference?  When we send out robots we’ve no idea who’s going to use them.   Sometimes it’s a new teacher, a technician, a teaching assistant or even a parent.  How can we help them, help their children get the best out of their Roamer experience?

I remember in 2006 running a weekend workshop at Syracuse University, New York.  Several teachers, academics, parents and children attended and while the adults spent time in workshops kids mooched about the reception space.  It was, in fact, creative mooching because they found and started to play with some Roamers; they quickly figured out how to make them move.  This attracted other kids who received instructions from the first lot so when we exited the workshop we bumped into robots a-roaming.

Several years later we visited a school – who’d just bought the new version of Roamer.  We set a task which needed the robots to turn in angles like thirty degrees.  A teacher began explaining that age group only knew right angles, but before she finished one of her students programmed the robot to turn right 60 and move toward its target.

These stories show children’s innate curiosity and their freedom to think and learn beyond the limits we needlessly set.  It also shows Roamer as a tool that naturally fosters such learning experiences.  Master teachers know how to manage and encourage these students but, above all, they know how to take advantage of their imaginative ideas and enthusiasm.  Although they do this subconsciously, an analysis shows they use AfL strategies.

Our challenge is to help those not familiar with these practices gain these skills while they teach with Roamer.

Evidence of a Partnership

We need to restate, AfL practices were going on years before anyone coined the term Assessment for Learning.  Teachers were also doing great lessons with Roamer.  When we compare the historical data we see Roamer learning environments automatically encouraged AfL practices.

We’re not going to give you a mass of evidence because we’re not presenting an academic paper and you need to know more about AfL methods before you can see the links.  But we hope the following example will help you understand the natural connections between the two.

We’ve selected an activity first done in 1991, it challenged students to make Roamer look and behave like a dog.  Children won’t create a dog; they’ll make a robot which will make you think about dogs.  They’ve got to capture and create “doggieness” – a Maker Space Project.  Then they’ve got figure out how dogs behave (science) and how they can program their Roamer to simulate this behaviour (coding and mathematics).

Let’s look at how this works with AfL ideas.

Learning Intentions

Once, you’ve engaged students in a task you can ask them what they think they’re learning.  A learning objective is your teaching and curriculum goals.  Learning intentions is what the student’s think they’re learning.  Just because you tell them they’re learning about dogs doesn’t mean they have anything more than a superficial understanding.

Imagine you’re told you’re taking a journey to a town which starts with the letter B.  Then you’re asked to set off.  Should you go to Birmingham or Boston?  You don’t have enough information so you’ll take a 50% guess or you’ll sit there confused.  This analogy isn’t perfect, but it points out the importance of getting students to know what they’re learning.

Success Criteria

At what point do the learners consider they’ve achieved their goal?  This question doesn’t have a single right answer and different students will come up with different answers.  Making choices like this gives learners the chance to develop critical thinking skills.  Traditional teaching frowns on giving students such freedom and claims you can’t think critically until you’ve amassed a significant amount of knowledge.

Because the children decide when their robot “looks like a dog” doesn’t mean you accept any old thing the kids produce.  Your role is to make sure they push themselves.  But, this approach gives you the chance to differentiate between student abilities and to support the SEN needs of your class.  This involves students asking questions: what do I need to know, do I have enough information, what don’t I understand, how can I find out more?  Critical thinking skills grow from developing this sort of questioning mind.

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