Where is Ed Tech Headed? Follow the Robots out of the Toy Aisle and into the Classroom

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Donelle at TCEA.jpgWalking into giant ed tech expos like those at FETC or TCEA, you might think you had mistakenly landed at a consumer electronics or toy show. Giant display screens, walking robots, virtual reality experiences, blinking blocks and wall-climbing robotic cars share the exhibit floor with more mundane tools like digital libraries, security software and math games. 

It’s all good, though. There was something about the product demonstrations at FETC and TCEA that suggested the lines between software and hardware are softening and are opening doors to purposeful learning and doing. Early in the robotics movement, the goal for students was to build robots. Now the goal is to build robots that solve problems. When 3-D printers emerged, we were thrilled that students could “print” cubes of plastic. Now students are making art objects, model engines and specialty tools. 

Coding products seem to be more closely tied to core curriculum and to creativity.  For example, Sphero’s robotic orbs were originally sold as toys. Now there is EDU Sphero. You can find educator funding requests like this one on Donors Choose

My students will use Sphero robots to hitch up their covered wagons and experience westward expansion on the Oregon trail. Students will learn how to code their Sphero wagon on their way west through an obstacle course they design and create, representing their knowledge of the land, rivers, mountains and hardships of the Oregon Trail. 

Traditional publishers are recognizing the value of adding “doing” to content. At FETC, Pearson and littleBits celebrated Pearson’s licensing of the llttleBits’ block-based engineering/coding system. littleBits kits will be incorporated into Pearson’s grade three to eight science curriculum. It’s a win-win. Pearson invigorates a product without in-house development. And, as littleBits’ head of Education Strategy Azadeh Jamalian believes, more children will abandon "I want to be an inventor" for "I AM an inventor."

Donelle Donelle Blubaugh is the Education Programs Manager at the Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN) of SIIA. Contact Donelle for information about ETIN’s Vision K-20 survey, U.S. K-12 Market survey, Innovation Showcase program or Diversity Initiative.