RoboKind Robots Allow Richland One Students with Disabilities to Work on Social-Emotional Learning Skills
Veda is in her second year at Satchel Ford Elementary School. She loves to dance and play baseball, but she doesn’t like loud noises. Veda is no ordinary student, however. She’s one of Richland One’s RoboKind robots, which help students who require specialized instruction with their social-emotional learning needs.
Richland One was one of 15 school districts chosen in 2017 to participate in the South Carolina Department of Education's RoboKind pilot program. The goal of the pilot program was to use technology to improve the social-emotional learning outcomes of students with disabilities.
After the three-year pilot program proved to be successful in one select classroom, Richland One added RoboKind robots to all of its elementary schools and Pendergrass Fairwold School, which focuses on serving students ages 3-21 who have cognitive disabilities, over the course of three years.
“The goal of having the robots is to improve outcomes in the areas of communication, emotional understanding, using calm down and self-regulation techniques and improve social function in varied scenarios,” said LaJamea Dixon, Richland One’s director of special services. “These become life-long lessons that not only support students in the school environment, but also in opportunities such as post-secondary educational environments, jobs and community work experiences.”
Satchel Ford special education teacher Janelle Mickens works with ten students in second through fifth grades. She immediately jumped at the opportunity to have a RoboKind robot in her classroom.
“When the RoboKind robot was offered to me, I was like ‘Yes. I’ll gladly take it. Let’s see what it can do,” said Mickens.
RoboKind has four different models of humanoid robots available: Milo, Carver, Veda and Jemi. The robots can move their mouths, eyes, arms and bodies, which allows them to express how they’re feeling. For example, when Veda encourages the students to dance, she gives a big smile and dances along with them.
“When Veda gets angry or frustrated, the students are able to see what that looks like and they practice the tools they need to calm down,” said Mickens.
Dixon says having these robots around has especially helped students who’ve struggled academically and behaviorally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The RoboKind curriculum program provides specific lessons, broken down into manageable steps, focusing on areas in which students particularly struggled during the pandemic. Students who did not have the opportunity to socialize and interact with others during the pandemic can learn how to communicate and engage in various settings with appropriate behaviors,” she said.
Dixon says a typical lesson with the robots include lesson objectives, vocabulary and target skills. The lesson starts off with an introduction and a guided practice with examples through video models and other visuals. After that, students go through an independent practice. If a student answers a question correctly, they receive positive reinforcement.
The lesson ends with an assessment. Once a student masters a skill lesson by achieving a score demonstrating knowledge acquisition, the teacher moves on to generalization lessons with individual and small group work.
Mickens says the students enjoy working with Veda every morning. Sometimes, when Veda is left out throughout the day, Mickens says it helps her students remember what they learned.
For fourth-grade student Amirah Simmons, Veda acts like another classmate who is teaching her important lessons.
“Veda is very nice and teaches us that if we need help, we ask a grown up,” Amirah said.
Dixon says the ability for students to interact with the robots alongside their teachers increases engagement in lessons from 3-4% to 87.5% of the time, on average.
“When students are engaged, they are more likely to learn the skills being taught,” she said.
Mickens hopes her students will take the lessons they learn from Veda and apply them to their everyday lives.
“When my students are out and about in the school environment, we want them to be able to communicate their feelings, emotions and needs. Veda helps them articulate their feelings to their peers and other adults in the school. I’m glad that Richland One always finds different strategies and techniques to use to teach our students social skills. Veda provides another strategy to do that,” she said.