As part of our trip to China (中国), we taught robotics to children with mental disabilities in Linyi (临沂). The class was a new experience – both for us and for the students, who had rarely been exposed to the concepts of STEM.
When we settled in, the students took turns introducing themselves. Most were shy and not used to being given
much attention, but with some encouragement, almost all of them stood up and gave a couple of basic facts about themselves. It was clear that they were relieved but proud.
After a brief introduction to robotics and the various kinds of LEGO pieces, the students were split up into 6 teams
and were ready to build. As we gave out the MINDSTORMS kits, they examined the pieces intensely using various methods. Finally, we taught them how to build a robot step-by-step:
The students took advantage of our slow but steady pace and worked on their own little creative inventions:
Eventually, all those little steps added up, and their robots were completed. They each were very eager to start using each robot, having figured out how to turn the EV3 brick on.
As soon as the robots were completed, we jumped right into programming. We guided the students in creating a basic program to stay in the circle. With more encouragement, they took turns dragging and tweaking programming blocks on their team’s computer.
At last, it was time to set the robots into motion. After quickly teaching the students how to download and run their programs, we laid out some SumoBot mats and let their robots battle.
We were extremely delighted to see how the students were extremely happy and eager to battle their robots. Every time they saw two or three robots battle, they would all give a yell of excitement and would watch to see whose robot would become the ultimate winner. It was one of the most excited rooms of students we’ve seen.
Helping disabled children
The first goal of this class is to help mentally disabled children prepare for the future. The amount of change in the world is increasing exponentially, and people of all ages should be taught to adapt. By exposing them to robotics and other STEM concepts, we hope to foster an interest in STEM so that they can make the world a better place in adulthood. Ultimately, we want to give these children the skills and the confidence necessary to take care of themselves.
Helping the world
As well as helping mentally disabled children, we hope to break some of the stereotypes surrounding mental
disabilities. In China, most parents of mentally disabled people are ashamed that they’ve somehow done some mysterious thing to cause their child’s condition. We’d like to change that, and give parents the confidence to embrace and take pride in their child’s differences. Also, we hope to have the world understand that while it’s not clear at first glance, they still have really strong feelings such as love, affection, excitement, sadness, and happiness, especially in captivating moments such as seeing robots battle. At first glance, mentally disabled people may just seem socially akward, non-verbal, somehow extremely intelligent, and emotionless, but we want to show the world that deep down, they’re just like you – interesting people who care about others and face the same challenges as us.
This class is just one of the little steps in helping mentally disabled kids with these goals. In the future, we want to host more classes like this to help acheive these goals, and to truly help kids of all types, including mentally disabled kids, help other kids.