Robotics for ’21st Century Skills’

This post offers a summary of my recent EduTECH 2018 presentation.

Why Robotics.. and why in the library?

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “where might my students have gone, if ‘assessment outcome’ wasn’t a thing”?

In school library robotics clubs, it’s not a thing. Neither, necessarily, is an ‘endpoint’.

This is because school libraries are uniquely positioned to provide learning experiences which are totally unencumbered by “I can” statements, minimum achievement outcomes, or even a curriculum.


I’m not dissing planned outcomes here… or tests, or structured learning programs, or minimum standards… or any other structure and process designed to help kids grow and progress in their learning.

However, what I do argue, is that the (increasingly) standardised approach towards education has… left some things behind. And maybe the school library can help with that?

I have taught robotics in the classroom, and I have offered it as an extracurricular library program. Both environments have their pros and cons, but the standout benefits of a library-based program are worth noting; especially since they are benefits which are tricky to reap in highly standardise schooling.

In the absence of assessment, I have seen students:

  • Explore things they never seemed to be interested in trying before
  • Launch wildly into a project, with no fear of ‘failure’
  • Embark on a complicated and ambitious journey, with no instructions
  • Make progress without even realising that progress is being made, and without worrying about the extent or pace of that progress.

Oh the freedom!

Image02SMLWithin all this flexibility and choice, certain skills and dispositions can flourish easily and naturally. Of course this may not be explicitly apparent to the person undergoing this development (remember there is no assessment to prove it actually occurred), but it is learning and development nevertheless. If a tree falls in a forest, and all that…

From my own observations, the big areas of growth in library robotics clubs are:

  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Trouble-shooting
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking

The term most popularly used to describe these and other similarly soft, non-academic skills is “21st century” skills.

Skills for the future world of work

Of course, “21st century” skills are not new to this century. They have always been important and probably always will be. However, the point is that as of this century, traditional technical skills are becoming increasingly less important in the job market, than soft skills like communication, creativity, and the ability to collaborate (World Economic Forum 2016).


It is a little alarming that “Creativity and Critical thinking” and “personal and social capability” have been removed as explicit general capabilities in the Victorian Curriculum.  The reasoning is that these skills are naturally assumed to be included as part of all learning.

What do you think?

I think… we are often stretched so thinly in the classroom, and so constrained by time and the ever-looming summative assessment deadlines, that these skills end up receiving far less focus than we would like; far less focus than students need.


I also think that

  • Teachers have long-since know that all the technical prowess in the world will not make up for an inability to work with others, build relationships, cope with set-backs, and engage with creativity outside the bounds of a project’s assumed parameter.
  • Teachers have long-since known what hundreds of studies now demonstrate: social and emotional skills play a critical role in academic performance and wellbeing among children and teenagers (eg. Durlak, et al, 2011).


(see: Mitchell Institute Policy Paper No. 01/2017 by Torii, and O’Connell).

A library robotics club is a great way to boost a school’s capacity to meet these areas of development. And of course, it is the job of the school library to fill in the gaps within our education system, wherever possible. After all, our fundamental purpose is access and equity. As we all know, this reaches much further than the simple provision of generic resources and facilities.

Perhaps it’s time you consider a robotics club in your school library…?



Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

Torii, K., & O’Connell, M. (2017). Preparing young people for the future of work: Policy roundtable report. Retrieved online:

World Economic Forum. (2016). The future of jobs: Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland. Retrieved online: