Using robots to build creativity

Robots in the classroom. It may seem like an odd concept at first. How would a robot help kids learn? To Katarina Veljkovic, it seemed simple: kids like robots. Why not use the creation of a LEGO NXT robot as a way to teach a complex programming language?

Well, she was right. She found that the robot can be a powerful learning tool to develop essential 21st century skills of problem solving, creative thinking, communication and collaborative teamwork skills. Her “Programming LEGO NXT Robot in Microsoft Robotics Studio” project was such a success, she won first place at the 2007 Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Teachers Forum in Paris.  She went on to win the “Creative School” award for 2007/2008, where all teachers from Serbia have a chance to present their innovation in teaching and share it online. She then took the challenge back to her students and organized two regional competitions: “Draw the future-Create your robot” and “A virtual guide through the museum Old Foundry.”

Katarina shared her thoughts on creativity, innovation and educational progress in Serbia.

What has changed in your school as a result of your efforts? 

The curriculum for “Computers and Programming” was modified and customized so we started following modern trends. This helped raise the interest of teachers in my school and country to introduce new curriculum and education content about application of modern software and hardware tools. So this changed the way teachers think – they feel that they need training to be able to cope with global trends in education. They often consult me when they want some changes in their teaching using ICT. Teachers are now more enthusiastic and motivated to apply new methods in their educational process. Perhaps more important, this project influenced our school management’s initiative to introduce a new professional profile in Serbian VET school-system: “robotics technician.”

What conditions must change in your country/region to better support education?

Education should be adapted to market needs, as it is the largest and most important driver of progress in any society. We need the old and rigid educational system (closed to changes that follow global trends in education) to open up.  Also, attitudes toward the teaching profession must change. Teaching as a profession helps the development of society, and must be treated with respect.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Using modern technology, teachers can change the atmosphere in the classroom. With it, they can inspire their students to think critically, encourage creativity, allow them to actively participate in teaching, and support them to become major initiators of changes to the curriculum. Also, by using technology, new space for learning and teaching can be created where teachers and students together take part in the learning process by  changing their knowledge and skills.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Be open to changes, learn from others. Have fun while you are teaching, because when you are having fun, everyone will want to participate with joy, not only students but also other teachers. Listen to your students; they can guide you to change and progress. Look forward to success.

What technologies have you used to change how your classroom works? Where have you seen the most creativity from your students?

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About Katarina Veljkovic

Katarina Veljkovic is a teacher of computer sciences and math in Polytechnical School in
Kragujevac, and a lifelong learner. She loves to collaborate with other collegues, apply new education tools, and travel. Veljkovic is interested in educational work with children and youth, and has also worked on increasing IT competences of teachers and students.

Current residence: Kragujevac, Serbia
Education: Mathematician for computer science and informatics (University of Kragujevac – Faculty of Mathematics), Database Programming with PL/SQL Database Design and programming with SQL.
Websites I check every day:  My mail account, and the Moviestorm and GoAnimate web sites. Also, I am often on http://www.teachertube.com/ – an interactive site that contains video, audio, and useful text for teachers.
Person who inspires me most: My sister Jelena Djokovic (currently a professor at the University of Belgrade). She is always supporting me and criticizing me when it’s necessary. She knows how to advise me when to stop and think about what I want to do.  She knows what she wants in life, she is not selfish, she wants to help everyone. She knows exactly how and what to say. She is doing her job with great love and passion. That was the reason to inspire me to grow and continue to work on myself, to see beyond tomorrow, but also to look back to see what it was yesterday.
Favorite childhood memory: I remember the feelings that I had when I first taught in front of my classmates, back in primary school. The teacher gave me the task to prepare a lecture about the river. I felt nervous, because I was teaching my classmates. I felt fear at the beginning, and then everything went as I planned. The fear was gone as if it never existed. I spoke clearly and concisely. My lecture was perfectly done and my classmates started to ask me questions. I knew the answers to all the questions, and I was very proud. Those experiences awakened the desire in me to be a teacher.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Syracuse (Sicily) – the city is notable as the birthplace of the mathematician and engineer Archimedes.
Favorite book: The Parrot’s Theorem written by Denis Guedj

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