So your child has shown interest in computers and you are thinking of signing her/him up for a program that nourishes this interest. The 2 typical candidates that come to mind are Robotics and Coding. It can be very confusing as Robotics seems more interesting, but you are not sure if this is better than traditional coding or not.
In this article, we compare the two and give our recommendations. The intention of this article is not a deep-dive into all aspects of Robotics and Coding as it will become very long, but a simple comparison of the subjects for the purpose of a decision on which one to start with and why.
We’ll cover each subject independently first and then get to the comparison:
As the name suggests, Robotics is the science of designing and programming robots. It is not that simple though. Robotics is a combination of Mechanics, Electronics and Software in general. Math and Physics are also used extensively in the process. People generally tend to think of Robots as physical machines or arms used to weld cars, but robots can be any machine that uses sensors to collect information and create outputs such as movement, light, heat…etc. As an example, if we create a simple device that waters the plants when a sensor placed in the soil shows the soil is dry, we have created a robot.
There are similarities and differences between the 2. Robotics incorporates coding and programming, but only as an element, so Robotics is a broader subject in this term. Coding is solely about creating a program for a desired application. Codes can be created for devices such as computers, gaming consoles, microcontroller (chips), phones (apps)…etc. Robotics uses coding to make the robots use inputs (such as sensors) with a decision-making process to create outputs (such as motors). In Robotics, we need to learn a lot more than just programming. Science of creating robots (Mechanics), as well as connecting various electronics components (Electronics) are required to successfully create a robot.
Well here comes the verdict. We think Robotics is a better start point for students who have no experience in either of the subjects. The reason is that for someone who is just exploring the world of STEM, they should be exposed to various fields and subjects to find out which one they like more. Robotics is a perfect application to practice Mechanics, Electronics and Software to give kids an overview of these sciences. As they develop their skills in these subjects, they generally show more interest in one or more which indicates their preference. They can then shift slightly more focus to that area.
That being said, as a growing child, sometimes what they think they are interested in could be misleading. As an example, a child who has been exposed to gaming tend to assume they like game programming, or a child who has been fascinated by building bricks seem to assume she/he likes robotics more, but as they start to walk in that direction and see what is involved, their desire might shift suddenly. On the other hand, we have observed that students tend to shift desire once they have spent some time on a topic and have received positive feedback. As an example, there are always some students who begin robot programming reluctantly since they just want to build robots, but after a couple of terms, once they see themselves capable of creating successful programs, they begin to shift more interest towards programming.
Another observation for Robotics being more successful with kids is the excitement factor when learning a new subject. As an example, let’s assume a child is excited to try a coding class. In a typical coding class, there are a set of fundamental subjects that kids are required to learn before interesting applications can be seen. If these applications are far-fetched, kids might lose interest in the early stages. What is interesting about Robotics is that from the get go, students see the result of every single step. For example, when they create 1 line of code to get the robot to move forward, they will see the result right away. This makes it more interesting for kids to learn coding via Robotics applications.
Finally, we feel students should be given the opportunity to try something outside their comfort zone. If a student feels comfortable strictly with building robot blocks only, they should be given the opportunity to try programming and vice-versa. Robotics is a perfect play field for such science trials.
At the end, the best we can do for kids is to expose them to various subjects and let them do it enough to truly find if they enjoy it or not and if they do, they continue in that direction. What keeps kids interested is getting challenges and be able to successfully complete that challenge. This is the reason why computer games have been resonating with many kids. This is the factor we have embedded in our curriculum and have been observing fascinating results.