A device that makes the common classroom become a space for innovation, creativity and student entrepreneurship
In this text, I report the experience of implementing maker education activities using the GoGo board 6, a low-cost science, computer science, and robotics platform, which has the potential to democratize STEM education in public and private K12 schools in Brazil and around the world.
Brazilian schools have found a demand to promote active and meaningful learning activities to meet the generation of students who are in the classroom.
Current K12 students, most of them born in the 21st century, are digital natives who have access to information, in real time, in the palm of their hands, through their mobile devices (Pimentel et al, 2018).
In the last century, when information did not travel so quickly, most young people had access to knowledge only at school through their teachers. Unlike the classrooms of past generations, where the status quo was lectures, we must consider that we currently live in a context in which teaching and learning activities that do not dialogue with the world around the student, magnify the lack of interest in school..
Although the ideas of researchers and educators such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire and Seymour Papert already pointed out, since the last century, to a scenario where education was more active and meaningful, the technological advance of the last decades, allied to a connected society and in network, shows that we can no longer wait for such ideas to be put into practice.
When it comes to academic subjects related to STEM careers, classes purely theoretical makes the lack of interest even greater, as they tend to be the most discouraging for students.
A possible way for the directions of education in Brazil to be redirected is the introduction of new technologies in the classroom, through experimental activities, using resources that provide research, exploration and that stimulate creativity and student entrepreneurship. In the STEM areas, for example, robotics, automation, programming, digital games and the inclusion of Artificial Intelligence (an increasingly ubiquitous technology in society), are means used to attract interest and develop the potential of young people who are in school and, in the future, will act in these areas that are so important for the development of the country.
However, some educational institutions, as well as some educators, face another challenge: Digital Inclusion.
Digital Inclusion is the process of democratizing access to technologies (Freire, 2004), but some educators and school managers understand that this access is only possible through high-cost resources, such as robotics and electronics kits from large companies, which cost up to $700.00, which makes its implementation unfeasible, especially in the Brazilian reality.
On the other hand, when we take a look at Brazilian educators who have sought to overcome these difficulties, the work of the Brazilian teacher and FabLearn Fellow Débora Garofalo, in the State of São Paulo, stands out. Mrs. Garofalo popularized the inclusion of technology in public schools in São Paulo through the Robotics with Scrap Project (Garofalo, 2019). Using electronic waste and disposed recyclable recyclable materials around the school where she worked as a Generative Theme, she awakened in Brazil a change in the mindset of educators and school managers who previously understood that Digital Inclusion was only done with a lot of money.
Another project that dialogues with this debate is the development of the low-cost Robotics Kit GoGo board 6, a project developed between the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab (TLTL), coordinated by Professor Paulo Blikstein, at Columbia University in the United States, and the Learning Inventions Lab (LIL), coordinated by Professor Arnan Sipitakiat, at Chiang Mai University, Thailand.
“The GoGo board allows computer programs to interact with the physical world. The GoGo board shares its fundamental functionalities with other devices in the programmable brick family. Users can connect various sensors and actuators to the board and write programs to read the sensor data and control the behavior of various physical objects using motors, small lamps, LEDs, and relays” (Sipitakiat & Blikstein et al. 2003)
The GoGo board is an open source electronic board for robotics, environmental sensing and IoT. The current version, GoGo board 6, can be understood as the union between Micro:bit, Lego EV3 and Arduino and, even with all these characteristics, the board is a financially accessible resource. It is very powerful and one of its differentials is that it allows the abstraction of the electronics and circuit construction stage during the project prototyping process.
If the educator wants to develop activities focused on Science, Engineering or Mathematics, GoGo 6 is a technological resource that allows people who have never built projects with automation, programming and robotics, to develop meaningful projects, through a small learning curve.
Also noteworthy is the possibility of creating codes in a visual programming environment in blocks (Image 1) , which simplifies and facilitates its use even more.
The GoGo 6 board has a great differential that deserves to be highlighted: its dashboard is available both in the programming environment and on the device’s integrated screen (Image 2).
Even before the automation and robotics project is developed, the user can try out the actuators and sensors that will be used in the project, without necessarily having to create a circuit and program the resources.
Through initiatives to provide active learning with GoGo 6, I present below two projects to implement robotics, automation and programming, using the STEM approach, both for High School students and for Middle School students in a private educational institution and in a Brazilian public school.
Case 1 – Classroom at Polo Educacional Sesc – STEM Club
In the city of Rio de Janeiro, I am currently participating in the implementation of a Mathematics course totally hands-on with the GoGo board 6. The focus is that the classroom itself (regardless of whether or not the school has a Maker Space with 3D Printers and Laser Cutter) is a space for innovative initiatives, based on the principles of Maker Education. This action is being carried out at Polo Educacional Sesc, through a partnership with TLTL (Image 3).
Polo Educacional Sesc is a High School institution that promotes free and quality education for students, preferably from public schools and low-income families. The Pole is a place where innovative educational actions are developed, with the aim of being replicated in other educational institutions, through technical cooperation and teacher training.
With the implementation of the New Brazilian High School, the institution developed Makers trails for its Training Itinerary. The Training Itinerary is made up of elective subjects called Curricular Units.
Gogo Board integrates the STEM Club Curricular Unit, which aims to develop Mathematics skills and competences through hands-on activities, where the student has the possibility to apply their knowledge in solving real problems.
To carry out such activities, the traditional classroom is transformed into a space for innovation, and students have low-tech tools, recyclable materials (empty milk cartons, cardboard, plastic bottles) at their disposal, in addition to scissors, box cutters, glue, tape, nylon clamp, among other resources. These materials are integrated into actuators that act in the environment in response to sensors that perceive their context, programmed by the students.
During activities with students, learning objectives are presented through guidelines given at the beginning of each project, and must be in line with the use of resources. These guidelines are the backbone for carrying out the activity.
Currently, the STEM Club has the participation of 13 students involved in the project. It is a Mixed-grade class, with 5 (five) 10th year students, 5 (five) 11th year students and 3 (three) 12th year students. For the first month of implementation of the Curricular Unit, students are being incentivated to explore the board and its features. Thus, after three weeks of work, the young people are already programming the board, its actuators and sensors.
Two classic projects were chosen for this stage: a traffic light with LEDs and presence sensor and a prototype autonomous car with empty milk cartons, which must be activated through a lever button and programmed to avoid obstacles, lighting up LEDs when identifying them (Image 4).
During these activities, the visual/block programming language used in GoGo is being explored (code.gogoboard.org), and students are being encouraged to implement in their code the blocks of logic, loops of repetition, mathematics, sensors and time, which we consider the most important in the current stage of the course.
The next step is linked to the development of engineering and technology projects, where all phases of building a prototype will be documented through worksheets,, and Mathematics Maker: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, that uses the Raspberry Pi minicomputer in its Machine Learning projects with the WiSARD Weightless Neural Network, in addition to the Teachable Machine and Machine Learning for Kids platforms.
Now, I present a speech by the youth Nicolly Figueiredo, student from the STEM Club, who is participating in the classes with the GoGo 6:
Case 2 – Computer Lab of a public school in the Municipality of Tanguá – Summer Course
The transformation of a Computer Lab into a space for innovation (Image 5), in a public school located in a small Brazilian municipality, was the first action I carried out with Brazilian students using the GoGo 6 .
In Brazilian K12 education, educational institutions have Computer Labs, which are used as the main means of introducing technology into the school curriculum. The Computer Labs are spaces with computers connected to the internet, organized in a row, where instructors teach students how to use an operating system, browse the internet, create and send instant messages and electronic mail, in addition to covering topics related to text editing, image editing, use of spreadsheets and construction of presentations through slides.
In fact, the aforementioned themes are important and are part of the Digital Literacy process. For some years, these topics were part of the first contact a student had with new technologies.
However, with the popularization of personal computers and mobile devices, in line with the significant increase in the use of social networks, actions such as text production, image editing and video editing have become common, especially among young people who are currently in K12 education schools.
Thus, although Computer Labs maintain their importance, the democratization of technological resources points to the need for these rooms to expand their field of action. One of the main topics that have been discussed today is the inclusion of Computational Thinking (CP) in the curriculum, which can be carried out through unplugged activities (without the use of the computer), and which, through Educational Robotics, finds a fertile ground for promoting teacher and student engagement. CP is an approach used to carry out thought processes, in the formulation of problems and their solutions, and can be applied in areas of knowledge that go beyond Computer Science (Wing, 2011).
Based on this reflection, a workshop called Educational Robotics in Tanguá, with Middle School students from a municipal public school, using the robotic GoGo board.
Tanguá is a small rural Brazilian municipality, located 70 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro. The municipality has 35 thousand inhabitants and is known as the state capital of orange. Many families have small fruit plantations, which contribute to their livelihood.
Through a partnership between the Tanguá Municipal Department of Education, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and TLTL, for three days, a Computer Lab was transformed into a space for Innovation and Creation using the GoGo board 6 as the Educational Robotics resource.
For this activity, recyclable materials and low-tech tools were made available.
The activity was carried out with the participation of 10 students from the last year of Middle School, 6 girls and 4 boys, in addition to 3 volunteer teachers who, for the first time, guided students in Maker Education projects.
The activity was organized into 3 (three) three-hour meetings. In the first meeting, the students were introduced to the visual programming language in blocks through the code.org platform. In this way, the students were led to understand, through playful activities, how to use blocks of logic and loops of repetition. It is important to highlight that the recreational feature of code.org platform activities are powerful resources to generate student engagement.
At this same meeting (Image 6), the students tried out the GoGo board 6 actuators and sensors through its dashboard. As mentioned above, the dashboard is an important feature of the GoGo board 6, as it allows students to recognize the functions of actuators and sensors, without having to create an electronic circuit or programming.
In the second meeting (Image 7), the activity carried out aimed to assemble and program a car that should move through the gesture sensor (a feature integrated in the GoGo 6). Programming the DC motors and the sensor was a challenging activity, but it allowed the students to engage with the project objective.
The third meeting (Image 8) had as a challenge the automation of a house. Proximity sensor, light sensor, LEDs, servo motor and DC motor were made available and used in the students’ projects.
At the end of each meeting, the educators who participated in the activity reported how easy it was to guide students in the use of the resource. The fact that, for the first time, they experienced GoGo in activities with students in the Summer Course, and, consequently, were successful, became the first step for the municipality of Tanguá, through its Municipal Department of Education, to implement in its curriculum robotics and programming classes, for interdisciplinary activities.
The report of Professor Érica Soares, one of the educators of the municipal school system, who participated as a counselor in the Summer Course, stands out. She said that:
“From the observation in the Summer Course and feedback from the students, I can say that the GoGo 6 is extremely accessible, from acquisition to use.”
The experiences, which I report in this text, refer to the first months of implementation of GoGo 6 with Brazilian students from Middle School and High School, both in the public and private schools.
The small learning curve required so that, both students and educators, can feel confident to develop robotics, automation and programming projects for the teaching of Science and Mathematics stands out.
Some innovative features of the current version of the board will be explored this semester, such as IoT and the Data Laboratory (DataLab). The DataLab, in particular, is one of the new features of the board that will contribute to interdisciplinary classes, as this resource dialogues with different areas of knowledge.
Thus, the possibility of integrating curricular subjects is expanded through projects with GoGo 6. For example, History and Sociology educators can use the resource to discuss technological advances and their impacts on society, in the debate about employability and new professions, and Philosophy and Computing teachers can discuss, jointly with their students, ethics in relation to obtaining and using data.
These are practices and initiatives that faculty, not just from STEM areas, can take ownership of through the use of the GoGo board.
Special Thanks: I would like to thank Professor Érika Soares, English teacher in the Municipality of Tanguá, Isaac D`Césares, Analyst of Educational Technologies at Polo Educacional Sesc and Walter Akio, researcher at TLTL, for their invaluable contribution in reviewing this article.
 Visual programming environment in blocks – A type of programming language that allows users to code using graphical elements, such as visual expressions or graphical symbols, rather than textual ones.
Freire, I. M. (2004). O desafio da inclusão digital. Transinformação, 16, 189-194.
Garofalo, D. D. (2019). Robótica com sucata. Revista Brasileira de Pós-Graduação, 15(34), 1-21.
Pimentel, C., Castro, B. B., Rodrigues, E. G., Almeida, G. H. A., Schaedler, L. S., & Pereira, M. A. (2018). Programação Visual em Blocos e Letramento Digital: Uma Investigação Realizada por Meio de Um Programa de Iniciação Científica na Educação Básica. In III Congresso sobre Tecnologias na Educação (Ctrl+ e), Fortaleza, Brasil.
Sipitakiat, A., Blikstein, P., Cavallo, D. P., Camargo, A., & Alves, R. D. D. L. (2003). A placa Gogo: robótica de baixo custo, programável e reconfigurável. XIV SBIE: Simpósio Brasileiro de Informática na Educação, 73-92.
Wing, J. (2011). Research notebook: Computational thinking—What and why. The link magazine, 6, 20-23.