New technologies are increasingly being used to fight against school dropout rates. After tablets, robots are now being introduced to help children with learning difficulties and disabilities. This new type of support has the advantage of quickly engaging pupils and getting them to focus.

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Once the robots enter the classroom, the effect is immediate: the children are captivated and attentive, the robots get pupils working together on projects. That’s what happened at the Willy-Brandt school in Élancourt (on the outskirts of Paris) for example. From pre-school onwards, young pupils are introduced to digital culture through new robotic companions, as a part of the Sqyrob challenge. For its first edition, the Sqyrob challenge, a cross-classroom project that was launched in 2016 in the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines area, gives children from several schools the opportunity to learn coding and programming with various robots.

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“With the use of robots, programming becomes concrete. The pupils directly see the effect of a command on the actions of the robot,” explains Philippe Roca, project officer in the academic delegation for digital education. The project involves several subjects such as science and technology of course, but also French, maths and art. Pupils and teachers have worked on programming a robot to make him perform figures or complete a set course. “Increasingly, we wish to share knowledge and work together towards successfully completing this project.”, says Sophie Chauveau, 4th year teacher at the Petit Près primary school in Élancourt. “Children get involved in every tool we offer, and they try to overcome difficulties. My greatest motivation is my pupils’ enthusiasm.”

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At the Willy-Brandt pre-school, teacher Patricia Dutertre also underlines the bond created by the small bee-shaped robots. “There’s an emotional dimension: the children got attached to the little robots, the bees really are a part of the life of our classroom”. Last May at the Élancourt Palais des Sports, the classrooms had the opportunity to present their challenges to a jury of professionals and in the presence of the pupils who were as motivated as ever. The robots had to complete a course and touch a foam ball on the finish line. Not all of them succeeded but both pupils and teachers were dedicated and involved together towards this goal, which was the real challenge.

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Playing Lego at school

The simple, powerful Lego robots are used in primary and junior secondary school to introduce children to robotics. In Biarritz, technology teacher Jean-Pierre Molia uses Lego robots for his classes at the Immaculée Conception junior secondary school. “It allows pupils to build and programme their own robot. In primary and junior school we copy existing models, but in senior school we can combine the robot with other variables so that it can do several simultaneous tasks.” The use of Lego robots is simple and fun, and mistakes don’t prevent the success of the project. “It’s always a success in the end: the Lego robot always looks good because the pieces are pre-made; it’s a great learning experience, because you learn from your mistakes.”, the teacher explains.

Robots help autistic children

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In Élancourt, the robots of the Willy-Brandt pre-school are also used to help autistic children. The school is the first of the department to host a classroom for autistic children. In this town which is very advanced as far as digital schools are concerned, this classroom also uses technology to help children. “Digital technology allows the pupils to naturally become autonomous, they have fun while learning, especially with humanoid robots, “says Jean-Marc Monguillet, president of the Sessad Aidera association.

A start-up has set itself the challenge of creating a robot for children with disabilities. Baptised Leka, this interactive robot helps children improve and learn while having fun thanks to sensors and sensory stimulations. The spherical robot vibrates, moves, lights up and produces sounds that capture the attention of the children and invite them to play along. Currently available for pre-order on Indiegogo, Leka will go in sale in 2017.

Sources: InnorobotTheVergelekaSpheroLudovia