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PROBLEMS ARE NOT FAILURES – Benefits of Robotics for Critical Thinking

Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen


AUTISM ACADEMY – An innovative introductory Robotics course is motivating middle and high school students to think critically. The Autism Academy, a school for children with autism in Tempe, AZ, offers rigorous and challenging classes that best benefit students beyond the borders of the classroom.

Robotics and Computer Coding teacher Justin Cothrum is teaching students the importance of strategizing, teamwork, and critical thinking. Cothrum creates a positive learning environment by inspiring and engaging students while walking the entire class through every step of the process.

“It’s going to take a lot of thinking,” he said. “So, be patient.”

Robotics is a branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacture, and operation of robots. This field overlaps with electronics, computer science, artificial intelligence, mechatronics, nanotechnology, and bioengineering.

“Basically, robotics is a series of steps followed to solve a problem,” Cothrum explained.

Robotics is currently an optional class offered at the Autism Academy in Tempe.

Cothrum defined robotics as technology that is used to design, build, and operate robots.

“Everybody thinks differently,” he said. “So, we have to be open-minded and respect one another’s ideas. The hands-on experience captivated a classroom of nine boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder working together as engineering teammates.”

“There are three steps to the process, Cothrum said. One: think. Two: do. Three: test.”

The students partnered together creating multiple think tanks within the classroom.

Afterward, groups assembling robots gain assistance from the robotics and coding teacher and paraprofessionals.

“If it works our problem is solved,” said Cothrum. “If not, then what, he asked?”

Students belted out the correct answer in excitement, “Start over at step one.”

The students were given the assignment to design robots able to throw balls. Class participants are allowed unlimited chances to start over at step one.

“Problems Are Not Failures,” Cothrum said.

Repeatedly, he encouraged students to keep creating and thinking critically. “Great job,” “good thinking,” and “just try it,” were just a few phrases he used to keep students on task. English Language Arts teacher Tyler Knowles says Cothrum has an exceptional connection with the students throughout the school.

“Robotics is one of the most popular courses for boys,” Knowles explained. “And they have a great relationship with Mr. Justin.”

Students learned the importance of structural engineering which include mechanisms, motor loading, gear ratio basics, drive trains and object manipulators.

“What if we put the motor on top,” one student asked? “Would we have more power and torque?” Again Cothrum replied, “Try it.”

The Autism Academy in Tempe is exposing students to useful problem solving teaching techniques utilizing innovative strategies. With raised hands, questions echoing around the room, and responsive dialog amongst critical thinkers, the robotics and coding class is a success.

Encourage your child to be a critical thinker. At the Autism Academy, we provide the students with top-rated teaching techniques at a school that can meet their needs. To enroll your child in a school for children with autism, contact us.