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A multilevel Educational Robotics Program: connecting STEM education and education for sustainability
The 21st century has become the epoch when our planet is facing the biggest challenge in human history. Humanity faces great questions such as resource consumption, waste production, water and food shortage, unprecedented air pollution and, definitely, a global climate change related to human population growth. Addressing these big challenges is requiring great commitment, investment, and specially updated education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We need people who do not only understand the scientific and societal dimensions of these planetary problems but also are motivated and skilled to help solve them. In recent times, new learning strategies have arisen around the idea of education for sustainability, where new generations of students get concerned about how integration, transformation and innovation are needed to change organizational and individual behavior. We need to establish a link between long term goals and immediate actions, and motivate people to action. And all of that with great commitment to sustainability actions through formal and informal opportunities for learning. To drive this new generation of citizens to achieve this global goal, the MECAMAT- Mechatronics and Modelling Applied on Technology of Materials research group of the Universitat de Vic - Universitat Central de Catalunya (UVic-UCC) has developed a non-formal multilevel Educational Robotics Program, from Primary Education to undergraduate, to provide students with deep content on STEM knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. To lead this big change, we offer a varied range of learning activities in an authentic, meaningful project in the field of Robotics. The UVic-UCC Educational Robotics Program is committed with the mission of the international FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs where they achieve science, engineering and technology skills. In that sense, since 2013, we have offered to Primary and Secondary school students the possibility of taking part in several Robotics contests: FIRST Lego League Junior (FLL Jr.), FIRST Lego League (FLL) and recently FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). That tool has been showed to be a great value for involving them (both, boys and girls) in STEM skills as well as in the education for sustainability, with regards to the understanding of how systems work, and how feedback dynamics can change the behaviour of a system. Additionally, our Educational Robotics Program includes multidisciplinary Project Based Learning methodologies supplied to several courses of a 4-year Bachelor in Mechatronics Engineering where undergraduates become prepared for facing this global change, the hallmark of their age. The aim of this contribution is to present the innovative methodologies proposed to undergraduate students to boost their critical thinking and systems thinking approach to problem solving, which are capabilities of high importance for sustainability. The results collected after six years of this Educational Robotics Program tell us that young students develop great skills in STEM as well as big capabilities for teamworking to build a more sustainable future.