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Robots, iPads, and museums. Oh my!

There’s nothing like a good history museum. Interactive displays. Interesting artifacts. Knowledgeable docents. Done well, a museum visit is not just a good time but can be an incredible learning experience.

That’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Especially if I’m a classroom teacher. Having students connect with evidence and explore possible theories in an environment specifically designed to support learning is something we all want for our kids.

And most history museums work very hard to find ways to get teachers and students into their buildings. The artifacts are there. The docents are there. The resources are there.

But more and more school districts are struggling to fund off-site field trips to history museums. Subs, entrance fees, fuel costs all add to make it difficult to get kids from schools into places like the Kansas History Museum. And so many museums,  have been forced to develop a variety of tools that attempt to replicate actual visits.

They create and ship out traveling trunks. Create and post lesson plans online. use photos and videos to give a sense of artifacts and displays. Many museums are experimenting with online chats using Skype or Google Hangout.

Museum and Education Director Mary Madden and her staff at the Kansas Museum of History have done all of that. Their Traveling Trunks are very cool. The Read Kansas cards are a great example of practical and aligned lesson plans that focus on literacy and social studies.

But two days ago, Mary stepped into a whole new world. Together with Curriculum Specialist Marcia Fox, Mary led five sections of Travis Hardenburger’s Kansas History class at Wamego Middle School through a tour of early Native Americans in Kansas. Travis and his students were 50 miles away sitting in their classroom. At the same time, Mary and Marcia were in the museum chatting about an atlatl, weapon points, types of shelter, uses of the buffalo, and Spanish exploration.

Using a DoubleRobotics iPad robot, a free online app, and internet technology, Travis and his class was able to “visit” the museum virtually. The robot uses the gyroscope, camera, and microphone on the iPad and guidance software to allows the Wamego 7th graders to navigate through the museum exhibits – interacting with Mary and Marcia as if they were actually there.

The free software can be installed on mobile devices or even better, accessed online using the Chrome internet browser. Travis attached his computer to a projector – allowing his entire class to see what the robot was seeing 50 miles away. Using the arrow keys on his keyboard, Travis and students were able to move left, right, forward and backward as well raising the robot’s iPad up or down.

robot kshs 1

Mary first heard about the iPad robot idea from Marcia who had a conversation with ESSDACK’s Cody Heitschmidt at a conference in Kansas City. A robot driven by Cody caught her attention. This led to Mary trying it out in an actual learning situation.

We wanted to find a way to get kids into the museum and let them interact with us and the artifacts we have. But many schools can’t afford to get here so the robot idea seemed like a perfect fit.

We’re excited about the possibilities! It worked really well. And once you got used to the idea that you’re actually talking to the kids rather than to an iPad, it’s like they’re in the museum with you.

The immediate feedback from Travis was also positive:

The kids loved it!  I honestly don’t know what we could have done better. There’s a bit of a learning curve driving it around but it was a great experience.

There were some issues. At times, internet usage in other parts of the middle school caused a few connections forcing Travis and his kids to drive blind for a few seconds. Lighting in the museum, designed for onsite visits, made some parts of the tour darker, making the image received by students a bit blurry. Moving to a brighter area solved that problem.

And it’s not a perfect situation. Being onsite will always be better. But I really like the idea of using appropriate technology to connect kids, content, and outside experts.

Full disclosure? I work for ESSDACK and we’ve been trying out the iPad robots in a variety of educational situations. We’re now starting to figure out how to use them to connect museums, businesses, and individuals with school classrooms. We’re also hoping to develop a program that loans robots out to museums and uses them as part of the outreach. There just seems like a lot of ways a robot can bring history to kids.

I would love to see a four drive version and take that thing out to the Gettysburg battlefield. How cool would that be? But even without the Hummer package, this can start to change how we do school.

We’re looking for teachers and organizations interested in literally test driving a robot in an instructional setting. If you’re interested or want more information about using the robot as a teaching and learning tool, let me know. Or contact Cody or Katie. They’d love to talk with you too!


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Indiana Jen and commented:
    This is such a great story! I wish these tools were cheaper and more readily available.

    October 29, 2014
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the reblog! The cool thing from a teacher’s perspective is all they have to do is use the online site or download the free app. The cost (for the robot) is on museum’s end. And one of the things we’re working on is to design a loaner program or lease program where we ship a robot to the museum for a small fee. They then use it as part of their outreach.

      We’re trying to make sure teachers and schools have free access. Let me know if you questions! We’d love to try this outside the state and are looking for possible museum / school combinations.


      October 29, 2014

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