Middle School Monday: Robotics
My students have a more than passing interest in robotics. It’s understandable, considering the number of after school activities we have that involve robotics and engineering. We’re a STEM school, located on the campus of a state university which largely produces engineers of one type or another. In order to meet the growing levels of interest and requests I get for books on robotics, this spring I ordered three new titles specifically devoted to robotics (as well as several robotics adjacent titles.) What I received was kind of a mixed bag when it comes to meeting student interests.
The first title, Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future (with 20 projects), definitely has the most appealing cover. The inside, however, is more of a mixed bag. While the text is entertainingly written and introduces new topics and vocabulary with plenty of context to increase understanding, it is unappealing in its choice of grayscale on plain paper. There are a number of cartoon style illustrations on each page and the content is good. It just appears to have been created on someone’s home printer. The students are so visually focused, especially in this digital age. It lacks a level of appeal that would engage a broader audience. Probably only for dedicated robotics enthusiasts. From the publisher:
Named to the 2012 Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best” Reading List for Informational Books for Older Readers, Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future is a fun and educational introduction to the exciting field of designing, building, and operating robots. Along with background material and clear explanations of how robots work, Robotics features step-by-step instructions for building real robot models using ordinary craft materials and parts salvaged from recycled toys and other household devices.
Budding roboticists will learn how to create working robot hands, hydraulic arms, sensors, solar-powered robots, light-seeking robots and more. A great way to get kids interested in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math), the activities encourage kids to use all their talents to come up with creative solutions to tricky problems and figure out how things work.
The second title, Robotics: From Concept to Consumer, suffers a bit from a cover that seems straight out a 1990’s science fiction movie. Part of a series of books on STEM careers, it understandably views the topic through a career focused lens. The prose is a little bit stilted, but probably designed to be at a specific reading level, so easily understood by the middle school audience. Each page has several full color images, and it is (at this point) appealingly up to date. From the publisher:
From the ancient Greeks to the people living today, we have long been fascinated by the idea of robots. Today, things that once seemed like science fiction are becoming reality. Readers will learn how some of todays most innovative thinkers are creating advanced robot technology. They will also find out how robotics technology has developed over more than a century and how to break into the industry themselves.
The final title, Robotics: From Automatons to the Roomba, has an almost devastatingly dull cover. It suffers from being part of a series where the covers are all very similar and equally unappealing. The inside, should any reader ever choose to explore it, is an engaging and detailed history of robotics. The photographs that accompany the engaging text are appealing, as is the book formatting, which includes a good deal more white space than the other two titles. From the publisher:
Details how early mechanical automatons led to the advanced, intelligent robots of today, also spotlighting the brilliant scientists who made these advances possible. Aligned to Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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