A Defense of (s)crappy Robots

Ryan Jenkins, Mairéad Hurley, Eva Durall Gazulla, Sebastian Martin

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientificpeer-review


Constructionist education philosophy suggests that learners develop understanding about science, art and technology by creating physical artifacts that strengthen the connections. As makerspaces and STEAM learning environments have become more and more common, many commercial kits for robotics, electric circuits and digital technology have been created for schools and individual learners.
While these kits might lower the threshold for entry in a tinkering activity, we believe that the “polished” qualities of most commercial kits or products can work against constructionist educators. When the parts of a kit fit together perfectly, learners are less likely to develop skills around iteration, problem posing, collaboration and development of understanding. We’re also concerned with the possibility that the approach and aesthetic qualities of these products tend to be directed to specific groups thus creating a less inclusive environment.
We propose a more scrappy, playful approach to thinking about engineering and robotics that relies on learners manipulating recycled containers, cardboard, vegetables or other everyday materials to create unique and whimsical designs.
We are inspired by the “shitty robots” made by Simone Giertz and the Hebocon robot sumo contest from Japan to create workshops where learners need to embrace frustration, celebrate moments where things don’t work as planned and taking risks with designs.
In this hands-on workshop, participants will engage in making scrappy DIY robots out of everyday materials that are not designed to work perfectly. We’ll use recycled materials, hobby motors, batteries and homemade switches in the construction process and show some possibilities for adding programming or digital tools to the mix. Participants will collaborate with others on the design of the machine and share their prototype with the rest of the group.
The experience of trying the activity as a learner will inform a discussion about the qualities of learning that we noticed in the workshop. We’ll reflect on the value of creating robots from scratch and working with unexpected scraps. The workshop leaders will share practical tips and frameworks for running these workshops, discuss how the SySTEM 2020 project is developing principles for the design of inclusive non-formal learning activities and we’ll think together about the ways that unexpected materials can replace or augment commercial, polished robotics kits to create more valuable learning experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - May 2020
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventConstructionism - Trinity College Dublin , Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 26 May 202029 May 2020


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