1. Robotics for Schools – Bringing Code to Life

Guidelines for Policy Making

Authors: Aleksi Lahti, Tomi Jaakkola, Koen Veermans



  1. Plan of action for policy makers, teachers, and school representatives. Summary:

  2. Introduction

The digitalization of societies throughout the world during past two decades has reshaped economics, logistics, and communication with such force that the mankind is undergoing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution. Students starting their school path year 2016 will be in the job markets around 2035. The prospects for employment within the next 20 years will be different than they are in 2016. Oxford university researchers suggest that by the year 2035 nearly half of the current jobs will be replaced with computers or robots. (Fray & Osborne 2013; MIT 2013a; MIT 2013b.) Digitalization is reshaping employment markets rapidly and inevitably, and it has been said, that even the job tasks will transform from concrete and physical tasks to abstract tasks (Griffin et al. 2012; Fray & Osborne 2013). This means that manual and routine tasks will be done by machines and humans will work with more abstract and creative tasks, such as designing platforms and creating new services for customers harnessing e.g. coding and computational thinking.

Policy makers in Europe have recognized these challenges, and they are concerned about the performance of European states in the future. By the year 2020 the EU will face a lack of 800 000 ICT-professionals working with new industries, such as Internet of Things (IoT). (European Schoolnet 2015.) Initiatives have been launched, and for example coding and computational thinking are now part of the national curriculums in 18 EU member states (ibid. 2015). These changes in societies and globalized markets raise a question, how do we prepare our students in schools to face these changes and adapt to changing job markets after they graduate? What skills should students learn in their school years? This paper introduces best practices for policy makers, parents, teachers and teacher educators how we could prepare our students to future job markets by teaching our students to collaborate with and through robotics and coding.

  1. Rationale for teaching robotics

As presented above, robotics and automation are reshaping employment markets. Robots are usually considered as part of heavy industry, but robots and automated systems are shifting from such industry towards everyday life with an accelerating pace. Vacuum cleaner robots, automated lawnmowers and logistic robots in pharmacies are just few examples, now robots are starting to be part of everyday life in households. Moreover, self-driving cars, drones delivering post packages or defibrillators for stroke patients and social humanoid robots keeping elderly persons company are at the moment just a small glimpse to the future of how robots will participate in everyday activities within the coming decades. (TechCrunch 2016; MIT 2013a; MIT 2013b.) The more robotics and automation are integrated into employments markets, the higher the possibility there is of co-working with a robot. This means that people and students need to be prepared to know what a robot is, how do they work and how human can harness the possibilities of robots to work with.

Robots can be defined as “sensor-controller-actuator systems”, where the robots interact with surrounding environment with their sensors and controllers. Robots are usually autonomous actors, making decisions based on the code that they are running. Code is designed by humans and robots just execute the commands given by humans. According to Sell & Altin (2015)  “[…] robots […] can be compared to a human being. We have senses, we smell with nose, we feel the touch with skin, we see with eyes, hear with ears and taste with tongue. Robot’s senses are called sensors. In case of robots and human beings, sensors and senses are the only way to perceive the environment. Robots have controllers, humans have brains. It is our control center - information from sensors and senses go to the controller/brain. The brain makes decisions based on received information. The result of a decision could be, for example, a movement for which we use muscles. Robot’s muscles are its actuators such as motors which complete sensor-controller-actuator system.” (Sell & Altin 2015.)

As robots observe the environment while moving and executing tasks, they make the abstract code inside them visible for humans. Humans see moving object in their living room cleaning the floor, but actually they see a complex command line compiled with sensors, motors and moving algorithms inside their robot vacuum cleaner.  For students, robots are particularly useful and engaging to see their code executed by tangible objects that move, interact and possibly crash if they have bugs[1] in their code. As most robotics kits used in schools combine assembling the robot frame (and usually it has to be designed from the very start), before students start to design the code they want their robot to execute, they have to use creativity, physics, mechanics and probably even handicrafts to build a robot that can be encoded to certain task. In short, robot is a concrete product executing command lines designed by humans, and with robots it is easier to make the code and coding visible for students.

From the point of view of teaching and learning robotics can be seen as a tool for learning 21st century skills. 21st century skills are considered as the skills needed in the future job markets and in the societies in general. These skills emphasize inter alia creative and critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and ICT-literacy (European Schoolnet 2015; Griffin et al. 2012). Prior research during past two decades demonstrates that teaching of robotics is a good way to promote problem and inquiry based learning, enforce student collaboration and creative thinking. Researcher Alimisis has stated: “the use of robotics in education is aimed to […] learning situation that will actively involve learners in experimentations, research and in authentic problem solving.” (Alimisis 2012). Robots per se are just tools to put these teaching and learning methods into action, but as they combine both learning-by-doing and collaborative actions they reinforce the 21th century skills teaching. (European Schoolnet 2015; Alimisis 2012; Galvan et al. 2006; Järvinen 1998; Martin 1996; Haapala et al. 1996.) Moreover students learn how the code they have designed determines the activity of a machine or robot. Thus, robots bring the code “alive”.

  1. Robotics and coding in Europe

Coding has been implemented in national curriculums in 18 European Union member states (European Schoolnet 2015). By doing this this the respective nations wish to develop an improvement in computational and logical thinking, interest in technology and programming and improve students ICT competences in general. Coding and programming are compulsory inter alia in Bulgaria, Czech, Slovakia, Finland, Portugal and in part of United Kingdom. Countries that combine coding and robotics in their education are amongst others Slovakia, Czech, Spain, Estonia and Malta. This report will provide small summary about coding and robotics initiatives within Finnish, Estonian, Swedish and British school systems (fig. 1).

Guidelines for starting robotics teaching

As coding is part of the national curriculums in majority of European member states, the starting of robotics teaching should be relatively easy to arrange. Most robotics kits harness both graphical and language based programming, so students and schools need only to add robotic kits in order to proceed from computer based programming to robotics teaching and learning. Figure 2 presents estimated calculation how much schools would have to invest in order to start robotics teaching from scratch. The calculation is based on the Estonian robotics experiences which retains LEGO robotic kits and Raspberry Pi –kits for advanced robotics. The composition presented below can include other robotics kits also, such as VEX-robotics, Arduino -platform or Beebots for primary school level. It should be acknowledged that Robotics for Schools ERASMUS+ -project has provided tasks and assignments for schools to be used without any technological devices, so starting robotics teaching can be done with a low-level approach (www.roboticsforschools.eu).

Figure 2. Costs of starting robotics teaching, approx. calculation.

Teaching of robotics requires in-service teacher training just as starting coding teaching. Experiences from the implementation of coding teaching has shown that the in-service teacher training has to be coordinated and properly organized, so that teachers without computing background could manage with this new subject area (European Schoolnet 2015). The same holds true for robotics also. Figure 3 shows an approximate calculation of costs for one day in-service teacher training in Finland. As the local and in schools organized teacher training is costly, should teacher training organizations (mainly universities) acknowledge the importance of robotics in their syllabuses. Also new approaches to in-service teacher training could ease the process. E.g. MOOCs could help the dissemination of information about robotics and coding. As robotics is based on learning by doing, could MOOCs ease the dissemination of information but it should be acknowledged that learning robotics needs also live tutoring and especially hardware to learn the basics.  Case about coding MOOC is presented in the “Best practices” –document (Sell et al. 2015).

Figure 3. Costs of one day in-service teacher training in Finland

Estonia has developed a governmentally coordinated teacher training model which is presented in figure 4. The model has been developed in cooperation with universities, NGOs and private sectors. The model is explained in the “Best practices” -document (Sell et al. 2015). The model is a good framework for other countries and schools planning their robotics and coding teaching. For succeeding in robotics and coding teaching, policy makers and school actors have to be aware of these requirements so that the teaching of robotics is on solid and pedagogically sustainable foundation. Experiences show that in-service teacher training for robotics can be carried out in cooperation with universities, NGOs and private sector. Initiatives supporting coding and robotics teaching can be found from appendix (appendix 1; European Schoolnet 2015).

Figure 4. Sell & Altin 2015, teacher training to robotics in Estonia.

  1. Conclusion

As presented above, many coding initiatives in schools have been carried out throughout Europe. The employment market is changing with a gathering pace from manual tasks to abstract tasks, and automation and collaboration with robots is the future that students starting their school in 2016 shall face.  How do we prepare our students to face these changes and adapt to changing job markets after they graduate? What skills should students learn during their school years?

Teaching robotics is a good way to promote the 21th century skills as it combines creativity, collaboration, problem solving, logical thinking and coding. Robotics brings relevance to school coding as robots are concrete objects executing the abstract code. Moreover robotics prepares students to understand mechanics and logics of robots. Sense of robotics will be important for future employment and will be important not to repeat those practices that caused gender divide in relation to technology in teaching robotics and coding. Therefore it is important to avoid stereotypes in teaching and use learner-centered environments where pupils solve real-world problems in varying everyday-life problem contexts. While Robotics for schools recognized this and has developed its teaching materials accordingly, it is important to keep this in mind outside the context of this project if we want everyone to learn about robotics and coding.

Policy makers and school representatives should acknowledge that in-service teacher training has to be properly resourced and coordinated. The Estonian model presented in this document gives good framework for planning the coding and robotics teacher training. Moreover acquisition costs need to be covered so that schools can purchase robotics kits and teach their students the basics of this matter. Local cooperation is the best way to acquire robots, for example rotating the robotic kits with schools and districts counts the purchase prices. Not all schools need to have their own robotics kits, devices and kits can be circulated with schools. In addition the national and local curriculum has to support the coding and robotics teaching. Several European countries are bringing Computer Science back to their syllabuses, but the process has to be backed up with in-service training and proper analysis of the various coding and robotics initiatives through Europe. Robotics for Schools ERASMUS+ -project has produced ready to use materials and tasks for schools and parents to ease the start of robotics teaching. Starting with robotics is easy; on primary level most of the tasks can be executed without robots (e.g. humans acting as robots). What all students and teachers need at the very start is determination, ready to use materials, creativity and support in teacher training. All the rest is just about logical thinking and bringing the code “alive”.


Alimisis, D. (2012): Integrating robotics in science and technology teacher training curriculum. In Proc. Int. Workshop Teaching Robot. Teaching Robot., Integr. Robot. School Curric.

Central Statistical Office of Finland, (2015): Number of Schools in Finland, URL: http://pxnet2.stat.fi/PXWeb/pxweb/fi/StatFin/StatFin__kou__kjarj/010_kjarj_tau_101_fi.px/table/tableViewLayout1/?rxid=9f13093e-eb55-4b1e-8918-7db7d14d8e6a. Retrieved 15.9.2015.

European Schoolnet, (2015): Computing our future - Computer  programming and coding. Priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe. European Schoolnet. Contributors: Anja Balanskat, Katja Engelhardt.

Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013): The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation. University of Oxford, 7, 2013. URL: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf 

Galvan, S., Botturi, D., Castellani, A., & Fiorini, P. (2006, May). Innovative robotics teaching using lego sets. In Robotics and Automation, 2006. ICRA 2006. Proceedings 2006 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 721-726). IEEE.

Griffin, P., McGaw, B., & Care, E. (2012): Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (p. 36). Dordrecht: Springer.

Haapala Taina, Tiura Jaana, (1996): HAITEK-projekti Tuomelan ala-asteella. Master’s thesis, University of Tampere. 1996.

Järvinen, Esa Matti, (1998): The Lego/Logo Learning Environment - Technology Education: An Experiment in a Finnish Context. 1998.

Local government employers, (2015): Teachers’ wages in Finland, URL: http://www.kuntatyonantajat.fi/fi/kunta-tyonantajana/palkat-ammatit-ja-tutkinnot/palkat-2014/Sivut/default.aspx. Retrieved 15.9.2015.

Martin, F. G, (1996): Kids Learning Engineering Science Using LEGO and the Programmable Brick. Presented in AREA 1996 conferens. 1996.

MIT Technology Review, (2013a): How Technology Is Destroying Jobs. Retrieved 2.4.2016, URL: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/ 

MIT Technology Review, (2013b): Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization. Retrieved 24.4.2016, URL: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/519241/report-suggests-nearly-half-of-us-jobs-are-vulnerable-to-computerization/ 

Robotics for Schools, ERASMUS+ -project (2016): Materials and recourses. URL: http://roboticsforschools.eu/ 

Sell Raivo, Altin Heilo, (2015): Creating and implementing robotics for schools. Erasmus+ -project. URL: http://roboticsforschools.eu/resources/publications/epublication 

Sell Raivo, Jaakkola Tomi, Lahti Aleksi, Veermans Koen, (2015): RESEARCH REPORT ON GOOD PRACTICES. Robotics as blended learning approach for training. ERASMUS+ -project report. URL: http://roboticsforschools.eu/resources/publications/good-practice 

  1. TechCrunch, (2016): Autonomous Robots Are Changing The Way We Build And Move Products Around The World. Retrieved 20.4.2016, URL: http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/17/autonomous-robots-are-changing-the-way-we-build-and-move-products-around-the-world/ 

Appendix 1, coding and robotics initiatives in Europe (European Schoolnet 2015, revised)



Belgium (Flanders)

www.i22n.org: advocacy and awareness rising


www.klascement.be: educational repository with about 132

learning objects

www.kvab.be : advice and advocacy


INFOS platform

Telerik Kids Academy

Bulgarian Scratch society



Summer schools and programming courses students:

www.Codecamp.cz – focus on programming

Letní Škola IT ČVUT (CTU IT Summer School)

Letní Škola IT pro dívky ze SŠ (IT Summer School for

Secondary School Girls) (Czechitas)

Letní Škola IT pro dívky (IT Summer School for Girls) (FIT VUT

in Brno)

Programming courses aimed at girls – www.Czechitas.cz 

Microsoft programming academy

Programming courses for gifted students

Competitions, e.g.:

Beaver of Informatics (Bobřík informatiky)

Competition for upper secondary schools in programming

(Soutěž v programování SŠ - vyšší programovací jazyky)

Baltík Creative Computing competition (Soutěž tvořivé

informatiky Baltík)


 Programming courses for IT teachers organised by universities

or non-profit organisations, such as:



Textbook “Computing for All” (Informatika pro každého)

Robotic activities

Robosoutěž – FEL ČVUT

Robotický den – MFF UK

First Lego League

Networking teachers of ICT and computer science (NGO Union

of Informaticians in Education – Jednota skolskych informatiku)


School-based projects and school blogs. Examples:

Pelgulinna Gymnasium

Gustav Adlof Gymnasium

Lillekyla Gymnasium

Teacher networks, Facebook groups. Examples:

Informaatikaõpetajate FB kogukond (Informatics)

M-õppe kogukond FB-s (mobile learning)

Hariduslikud mängud (educational games)

3D printerid Eesti koolides (3D printers)

Eesti Kodu Game Lab kogukond (KODU Game lab)

Raspberry Pi Eesti (Raspberry Pi)

The Look@World Foundation organises extracurricular activities for








http://koodiaapinen.fi/en/ (code MOOC for Finnish teachers)

www.innokas.fi (Robotics network for schools)


Competitions Découverte du codage des object numériques,





Jaunųjų programuotojų mokykla

Robotikos akademija

Ivairios privačios neformalaus ugdymo mokyklos


www.CoderDojo.nl is in a several cities.

www.codeuur.nl Stichting CodeUur gives “guest” lessons at schools.

www.codekinderen.nl Several libraries or library organisations have started so called

“Maker buses”, mobile fab labs which also offer programming to


Codekinderen.nl: website created by Kennisnet that offers an

overview of tools and guidance for schools that want to teach


www.Codeklas.nl : book with practical examples for schools.

www.MakerEd.nl : platform created by Dutch Maker Education

forerunners where teachers share their experiences with

(amongst other things) programming in education.

Kennisnet shares information through articles, flyers, posters and

booklets on this subject at: www.kennisnet.nl/digitalevaardigheden/programmeren-maken 


Kodeklubben (Code Club) resources for learning to code:


List of teacher plans and teacher blogs related to teaching

coding in school from “Lær Kids Koding”:


Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education offer a web portal for

teachers to share teaching plans and experiences with coding:



Baltie environment used in some schools;

The Hour of Code (http://godzinakodowania.pl/ )

The Bebras Competition (in November each year)

The Masters of Coding (Samsung) in K-9

Olympiads in Informatics for middle and high schools;

Several local and regional competitions on programming in

various environments (Logo, Python, Scratch, Pascal,…

European Coding Week


Several initiatives and contests, especially in the robotics area:

Scratch community



Participation in the last World Championship of Robotics in

China with four teams, with excellent results:



Examples of other initiatives to support teaching and learning

coding are:

Programamos: non-formal training

Community Código21

Initiative CodeMadrid

Programme mSchools






UK (England)


• www.CoderDojo.com

www.techfuturegirls.com Computer Clubs for Girls

www.yrs.io Young Rewired State