Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
The University of Toledo’s American Language Institute’s new course is helping international students improve their English language skills by speaking “robot.”
The seven-week course was designed to teach English verbal skills to students while they build and program robots. ESL Robotics, as it’s aptly named, has become very popular with students from around the world who are learning English as a second language.
Founded in 1977, the American Language Institute enrolls an average of 235 students. English competency levels range widely among the students and the institute gives students the opportunity to work on English skills that are required for success in the United States.
J. Matthew Krull and Daniel Current, drew from their enthusiasm for robots to create the ESL Robotics curriculum. The two men began by working with students to build a “Brush-bot,” a robot built from spare parts , complete with floor brushes to keep the workspace tidy. This evolved into a course in which students used LEGOs to construct and program robots.
Instructions for projects are given to the students in English and all work must be written in English. Teachers believe that building competitions held within the course make learning the language more enjoyable and builds a solid foundation due to its hands-on approach.
Current says that while the intricate language in the robotics course may prove to be difficult for students at first, they are able to speak and understand it by the end of the seven-week period.
To make it even more interesting and fun, a competition is held at the end of the course in which students pit their robots against each other in combat. The goal of the competition is to drive the competitors’ robot out of bounds – sort of a robot Sumo Wrestling.
Hamad Alzulayq, a student from Saudi Arabia said that his English has improved because of his participation in the robotics course. Enrollment in the innovative program continues to grow as word gets out about how fun and effective it is.