Science & Makerspace Teacher Barbara Bratzel Runs Robotics Workshops in India
Shady Hill has a long tradition of disseminating its project-based and creative approach to teaching. Recently, science and makerspace teacher Barbara Bratzel was invited to speak and give workshops at LEGO Engineering conferences in Chennai and Bengaluru, India, with the theme Driving Innovation in India through STEM Education.
In each city, Barbara gave a keynote address to the attendees, who also participated in LEGO robotics workshops that she designed. Registration for each conference was capped at 100 participants. But in both cities teachers closed out of registration came anyway, leading to very busy workshops!
Through talks and workshops in the US and abroad as well as through her robotics activity books for teachers, Barbara works to help educators shift to a more open-ended, project-based approach to STEM. Compared to more traditional step-by-step methods, this approach leads to greater engagement and a deeper understanding of the concepts. The teachers at the workshops in India were interested in moving from a regimented, exam-based approach to education to one that embraces more creative problem-solving. Open-ended challenges, hands-on projects, and team-based collaboration are integral to this approach. The educators attending these conferences were particularly interested in how to embed physics concepts in robotics activities and how to assess open-ended projects. These were the first LEGO Engineering conferences in India; the hope is to hold additional ones in other Indian cities in the future.
In selecting challenges for the workshops, Barbara drew from the physics and robotics courses that she teaches at Shady Hill. For example, conference attendees designed their own simple robotic cars. Then they attached motors, sensors, and pens and programmed the cars to draw a variety of designs. In another workshop, the teachers explored data logging, an application of LEGO robotics that was new to them.
Barbara reports that her work with other educators feeds back into her teaching here. For example, one of the Indian teachers emailed her after the conference to share an extension of the drawing-robot activity. She had her young students attach markers to BeeBots (programmable robots that Shady Hill uses in Kindergarten and first grade) and program them to draw pictures. Barbara loved the idea and immediately shared it with lower-school science teacher Tracy Polte. They are planning to do the activity with the lower schoolers this year. Barbara also gets to visit schools and talk with teachers around the world, giving her a fresh perspective on education in the US and a greater understanding of education around the world.