"We train people who are at home in both worlds": Robotics at school
How can students be prepared as practically as possible for a working world with new technologies? How can teachers incorporate new technologies into school lessons? A vocational school in Southern Germany demonstrates what is still a thing of the future in many other educational institutions.
Networked robot training cells, linked computer workstations for programming and large projection screens where teachers present and young men and women work synchronously on the robots: Since the 21/22 school year, a state-of-the-art learning lab has been preparing students at the Gewerbliche Schule in Göppingen, Baden-Württemberg, for a professional life with automation.
"GS Göppingen is one of the outstanding schools here that teaches in this area with such professional equipment and concepts," says Frank Zimmermann, Business Development Manager Education at KUKA. Automation plays an important role in training professions in particular. More and more young people will come into contact with industrial robots and their programming during their careers. Schools have also recognized this and are increasingly looking at how these topics can be woven into the curricula. While many general education schools such as grammar schools or secondary schools still teach robotics "on the side", it has become an important topic at vocational schools such as the GS Göppingen, which is approached with a great deal of practical relevance.
We spoke with Joachim Heer and Franz Thaler from the Gewerbliche Schule in Göppingen about their modern learning lab, why simulation and Lego models alone are not enough, and where the journey in robotics education is headed.
Why did your school choose the KUKA robot training cells?
Heer: Robotics is a beacon in automation technology and can be used very profitably, especially in the classroom. Because you see something and that is very motivating for the students. We have been working with robots at our school for some time, and since 2018 we have been in contact with KUKA for this purpose. We decided to do this because the cells can be used vividly in the classroom and also because many companies work with KUKA robots. The goal is always to teach our students and trainees as close to reality as possible. Some of them do their certificate and it often happens that they go on to work directly with KUKA robots in their jobs.
Wouldn't an inexpensive, playful robot model suffice for the lessons?
Thaler: Of course, a simple toy robot would also be sufficient to demonstrate the basic principles and core content of robotics. In the area of programming, a lot can also be taught with toy robots. But to really get the content across well, you have to pick up the students and the abstract leap, like from the toy model to the real industrial robot, must not be too great. Our robot cells are very practical, which makes the school attractive for students. And the companies also find it very good, we have really received a positive response here. PLC training is also possible in our lab. Our goal is never to look at a robot on its own, but always in a system with a plant.
How are the cells received by the students?
Thaler: Our students find learning on realistic systems very motivating. Of course, a 70-kilo robot would look even better, but the cells with the small KUKA robots are also very interesting, especially when they run in automatic mode.
In general, do you think it is important to incorporate new technologies into school lessons?
Thaler: That depends on the focus of the school. For us as a commercial school, complete action competence always plays a big role. It has always been important for us to have modern hardware that is close to the real world. Of course, I can talk a lot of theory on the blackboard, and it also makes sense to teach basic concepts. But when I put something into practice, it sticks. Our students gather information, look for solutions, program, simulate and implement what they have learned on the robot. Theory and simulation alone would simply be missing a crucial part.
Would this also be a good approach for general education schools?
Heer: I think general education schools should also learn and teach on such systems. The topics surrounding modern technologies range from physics, mechanics and mathematics to business administration and ethics. If general education students had robots like this, it would certainly be easier to get across.
What's next for robotics education at your school? What are the plans for the future?
Heer: We want to tackle the topic of offline programming and, together with KUKA College in Augsburg, offer students the chance to earn certificates. And we want to exploit the full potential of the cells; for example, we haven't really used the vision area at all yet.
Thaler: We are also working on expanding robot training to the entire school. Currently, technician training is still our focus group. We also want to bring together automation technology, robotics and welding applications. So far, there is still often a distinction between PLC programming and robot programming. Our focus is to train people who are confidently at home in both worlds.
Heer: These are enormously sought-after specialists on the job market who know both worlds. And that is our mission: to make young people fit so that they can do well on the job market in the future.