Social-emotional skills — from a robot?
- Bryan Flaig, an instructional science coach who heads the STEAM program at John Gill Elementary School in the Redwood City School District (CA), writes for EdSurge that the school's computer science program isn't just designed to teach students STEAM skills, but to help them develop social-emotional — or soft — skills, as well.
- Starting as early as kindergarten, the pilot program at the Silicon Valley school has students work in groups to solve robotics problems with block-based languages, developing collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills alongside the more advanced tech skills.
- Flaig also emphasizes that the district takes a strong "not about the robot" approach, focusing on how students are using technology to solve problems rather than putting flashy devices and other tools in their hands.
It's humorous to imagine learning social-emotional skills from robots, which are most often depicted as soulless machines (because, let's face it, they are). But the approach taken here is a clever one that kills two birds with one stone. There's a demand for more technological skills in the workforce to fill numerous vacant jobs, but business leaders are also demanding more of the soft skills focused on in this program.
Finding out where and how to best fit those soft skills into regular instruction can be challenging, but why not address both demands simultaneously — and in classrooms that are redesigned to mimic the kind of open and collaborative work environment that today's students can expect to occupy tomorrow?
It's all easier said than done, of course, and will require plenty of stakeholder buy-in within the school/district community — not to mention the funding — but it seems to be one of the easier cases to make to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle right now (just look at Arkansas). And there are also a number of corporations and nonprofit organizations that educators can look to for support.
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