Kids learn English while building robots

Kids learn English while building robots
A primary school student learns how to move a robot in English from a Serbian lecturer.

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki - A robotic technology venture is offering courses for primary school students and kindergartners, where they learn in English how to make moving robots. The unique programme is helping children to nurture their mathematical skills and naturally develop English conversational skills.

Teachers at the Robot School Robins in the Higashi-Arai area of Tsukuba speak to their students primarily in English. "One more time," they tell them and "You made it."

The children also speak English, creating a unique environment that develops their mathematical skills and other talents through an activity most children would find fascinating-creating a robot-while also developing their English abilities.

The school is run by venture company JS-Robotics Ltd. A recent visit to its classes found students handling robots and using computers with serious expressions on their little faces as they received instruction from lecturers.

Robot School Robins uses Lego blocks created for educational use to build the robots. In addition to regular blocks, the equipment includes motors and tires. The motors can be controlled by computer: For example, students can control how far a car-type robot travels and when it turns.

The classes are divided into three courses, generally based on the students' grade levels, and follow handouts prepared by Jin Sato, the 53-year-old president of the company.

In the Junior class for children from kindergarten through the second grade of primary school, students assemble parts into a robot based on an illustration of a finished robot, learning how gears and other parts work along the way.

Students belonging to the Advance class for third to fifth graders work on mathematical tasks by manipulating robots via a computer. In the Development class for children from sixth grade on, students develop a robot in about six months and aim to participate in a robotic contest.

The school opened last month, with children attending classes two or four times a month.

On June 1, five boys attended the Junior and Advance classes. While being taught in English by a male Serbian lecturer and a female Japanese lecturer with experience overseas, students created car-type robots. The students measured the motor speeds and turning angles of the tires to calculate the best command to make the cars run on a fixed course.

Ken Nakajima, a 10-year-old fifth grader, attended the class with his 6-year-old brother Shin.

"I sometimes don't understand the teacher's English, but I can overcome that because it's fun to move the robots I made," Ken said.

"Kids who like robots are happy to learn English while building. When a robot doesn't work, children can also develop their ability to find and solve problems," Sato said.

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