Education

Dr. John Heffernan creates a robotics curriculum for elementary school kids

Apoorva Chakravarty
Dr. John Heffernan creates a robotics curriculum for elementary school kids

It may seem unrealistic to believe that kids in elementary school will understand complex robotics and technology, however, an ex-engineer and current elementary school teacher has made this possible. Dr. John Heffernan, a technology and engineering teacher at Anne T. Dunphy School, believes in promoting unconventional ways of teaching. “Legos allow kids to quickly create prototypes of structures and vehicles and so forth,” he said when asked about his way of teaching engineering, that too for younger kids.

In an interview with Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Heffernan explained how he developed a robotics curriculum for younger kids along with a colleague. "In the old days of engineering, they never did that,” he said. “you just learned math and science forever, then maybe by the time you were a senior in college, maybe you would design something. So, engineering education has changed that way, we are trying to start earlier and get more kids interested.” 

This visionary educator’s philosophy behind teaching younger minds robotics is founded upon the basic concept of preserving creativity and developing interest from an early age. “I provided more of those open-ended projects that don’t necessarily have one answer, but where kids have to engineer their own.” Mentioning an example Dr. Heffernan informed about students designing a robotic burglar alarm with sensors that detect “when a lego mini-figure burglar comes in.”

In an interview with Connecting Point about his book, ‘Elementary Engineering: Sustaining the Natural Engineering Instincts of Children’, he points out that children naturally have an instinct of building and, kindergarten is the classroom that nourishes this talent. Blocks, sand, lego, paints are few of the many articles used which could help a child with his flair of engineering and encourage them to build. According to Dr. Heffernan, it is necessary to maintain and sustain the building and creating instincts of a child which usually the first grade takes away.

During his Ph.D. he studied developmental characteristics where he discovered that age or gender of the students does not play a role as a catalyst for learning. The learning happens from knowing how the pieces interconnect (structural knowledge), knowledge of design principles and causal learning.

 Dr. John Heffernan was awarded the Presidential Award for excellence in teaching Mathematics and Science, the award recognizes outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country. He was also named one of the 110 “Master Educators,” an initiative to bring educators together, for an innovative and out of the box teaching method and the brilliant curriculum that he developed.  To improve teaching methodology, he has begun training teachers of other schools on using the curriculum he has developed.

Individuals like Dr. Heffernan prove how small steps are enough to begin changing the world. One can start with something as little as evolving a conventional teaching method to eventually improve the future of students and learning.

Images Courtesy:  https://www.gazettenet.com/, twitter.com/LEGO_Education

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