Robotics which helps children in hospital classrooms

The teachers of South Madrid Hospital Classrooms are using robotics and 3D printing to make the children’s stay easier and to stimulate their learning. In 2017, their project was shortlisted by RetoTech of the Endesa Foundation and they will take part again this year.

A new day is starting and Julia García, primary teacher, arrives at the classroom. It wouldn’t be so different to other classes at any school, if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes place in the Paediatrics Unit of the Getafe University Hospital. Nor will she find the same children that she taught the previous day: some will have gone home already while others will have only just arrived.

It is difficult for youngsters to feel like learning when they are not well, which is why the teachers of the South Madrid Hospital Classrooms (which include the Getafe, Leganés, Móstoles, Alcorcón and Fuenlabrada centres) have found that robotics provides a way to get their attention and to help make their stay more bearable.

“It motivates them, it helps them disconnect and they enjoy it”, explains Maite Bravo, teacher of Saed, the Hospital Classrooms service that provides classes to children who are at home on sick leave.

“The parents tell us that the kids are waiting for the moment to use robotics: normally they don’t want to get out of bed, but the day I go to visit them, they are nervous from first thing in the morning”

This is how it all started: RetoTech of the Endesa Foundation

aulas hospitalarias con robótica BQ en Getafe

The teachers of these classrooms have always made use of technology in their classes, but it wasn’t until last year when they introduced robotics and took part for the first time in the RetoTech of the Endesa Foundation competition. They did this will the help of BQ, which gave them ten robotics kits and a Witbox 2 3D printer, along with free training for the teachers. They didn’t win, but they were one of the 51 centres that were shortlisted for the finals.

RetoTech participants must use the technology to find solutions that improve their environment. The students at Getafe Hospital thought about everything that could make their stay easier and they created a model of the rooms and the classroom with the teachers.

In the model classroom, they installed an automatic blind and a fan controlled using App Inventor from a mobile or tablet, as well as music for waking up (“Happy” by Pharell Williams) and going to sleep (famous bedtime song “Vamos a la Cama”). In the bathroom, a movement sensor turns the light on when somebody comes in. As well as all this, a portable disco moved by a Printbot Evolution robot dressed as Lightning McQueen was added.

“At Getafe, we focus on the programming and robotics side, and on 3D printing in the Leganés classroom. We use it to create mathematical material to scale for a pretend exhibition on the subject in the model classroom. The children took on the task of reproducing the games room and customising the Playmobil dolls to make them look sick”, explains Julia.
proyecto de robótica en aula hospitalaria de Getafe
poyecto de robótica en aulas del hospital de Getafe

Last year’s experience was so positive that they will repeat it this year. Whereas in 2017, the students involved were admitted to hospitals, this year they will do it with children that spend long periods at home. With them, we have starting building the front of a detached house: a garage door opens with a sensor that detects the car and a light above the door comes on when it gets dark. They have devised an illuminated whiteboard which is controlled using a potentiometer and they have designed an LED lamp.

Managing all of this more complicated than a traditional lesson because the age group is mixed and the time that each child is involved in the project will depend on how long they spend in hospital. “We do what we call mini-challenges because it really depends on the student’s length of stay..  As children come in, we start introducing them to and telling them about the projects and we include them in them. We teach them the basics of programming (many of them have already seen it at school) and we start from what they already know and what we have. It’s all a bit of a chain reaction. For example, one of them could have an idea and although it might not materialise for them, the next kid that comes will then do it”, explains Maite.

“We work in very peculiar circumstances, the children come and go, it would be unusual for any of them to stay two weeks, as they are district hospitals”, claims Enrique Sánchez, teacher of the Hospital Classroom at Severo Ochoa Hospital of Leganés. “We introduce them to the projects that are ongoing. One student might take part in designing a 3D piece but then they won’t actually see it printed as they have already gone home”.

Creativity, learning and fun

Technology and educational robotics encourage creativity and problem-solving capacity in the kids. What’s more, its use is not reductive as it applies in different fields of education. This is how educational proposals based on the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) philosophy work, which is based on exploring scientific, mathematical and technological knowledge from an artistic and practical perspective.

The ideal thing about robotics is that it is multi-functional, you can relate it to many materials. For example, when we create the songs for the rooms in the RetoTech project, we teach music at the same time”,  explains Maite. This also reinforces the affirmation that one of the most positive aspects is the promotion of creativity, because it encourages children to think about what they need, what motivates them and what they like, “such as the design of an LED lamp, using only a syringe as the basis.”

robótica en hospitales de Madrid Sur

The teachers of these hospital classrooms know they need to get the attention of the hospitalised children so that attending classes doesn’t become a drag. Whereas crafts were previously used, they have now been replaced by robotics and also 3D printing, another learning tool. They also claim that including these technologies is quite easy for the children.

“Some of the kids were even more familiar with the printers than us. They were able to program with ease. One boy quickly made a design in 3D, there was no need to even show him”

The whole experience not only helps the students. The teachers that struggle day in and day out to keep youngsters motivated also gain from it: “It creates a great atmosphere between us. There’s a great sense of camaraderie, this isn’t a typical school and it has helped bring us together. It has enabled us to come together, to share moments, design together, and to have fun”.