Programming the TI-Innovator Rover inspires Finnish and Portuguese exchange students

Posted 24/06/2020 by Carlos Coelho

Coding and TI technology were at the heart of a successful exchange trip by several Finnish students to the Ermesinde High School in Portugal. The Portuguese and Finnish students worked side by side programming their own TI-Nspire handhelds. They were able to instruct the robotic vehicle Rover to follow a course and avoid obstacles using its distance sensor.

Practicing STEM in school
The idea for the exchange program dates back to the Sharing Inspiration event in Brussels hosted by Texas Instruments in 2019, where teachers Raul Aparicio from Portugal and Johanna Parvinen from Finland first met. “Johanna showed an interest in participating in an exchange program, so we created a series of workshops focused on Texas Instrument’s newest technology, using the TI-Innovator Hub and TI-Innovator Rover,” says Raul, who teaches at the Ermesinde High School. The event took place just before the coronavirus lockdown, and both teachers value the idea of their students working together internationally. “In this way they get to know foreign students and experience using a different language,” explains Johanna, math teacher at the Martinlaakson lukio school. “They work together on scientific activities and experience how people from different countries practice STEM.”

Brain training
The students say they learned a lot during the exchange, particularly when it came to putting technology into practice. “Usually when you make a calculation, at best all you get to see is a graph,” says Kelpo Koivaara, one the Finnish students who took part in the program. “But here, based on our own calculations, we got to see a moving vehicle in real life!”

“I feel privileged because not everyone gets to participate in a project like this,” says Hugo Magalhães. “The workshops gave us a type of brain training we don’t get in normal classes. I felt like other parts of my brain were being stimulated. It was very fulfilling, and I really learned a lot. It was also a valuable experience to share it all with students from another culture as well.”

Felt like a holiday
As well as learning practical applications for math and some coding, the exchange students were able to get to know their peers from other backgrounds. “In a way, it felt like having a holiday, but you are in school and you get to do special projects outside the curriculum,” says Kelpo. “And working with the Portuguese students was fun.” Portuguese student Mariana Rocha sees an added bonus as well. “Learning about different cultures is important so we come to accept other’s better,” she says.

Technology as a support for learning
The teachers also appreciate the learning process the pupils have gone through. “I think the students have learned new ways of thinking,” says Raul. “Instead of a formal learning process from a book, they were challenged to apply mathematics in a totally different way. Another advantage is that they realise that technology is a support for learning. They learn that technology does not solve the problem by itself, but that their input matters.”

Solving problems by experimenting
Fellow teacher Paulo Monteiro thinks the students made progress in several fields, particularly in terms of solving problems by experimentation. “They improved their knowledge of algorithms, programming and applying this to mathematical concepts using the calculator and the Rover,” he says. Johanna is also pleased with the results. “I think they advanced a lot in programming the Rover and the Innovator Hub,” she says. “In Finland we have not focused much on coding and it is not yet integrated in the math curriculum. But I think it will be integrated soon.”

Programming in Python: way to go
Both teachers and students see coding as an important skill to be learned at school and they are looking forward to being able to program in Python, a new feature integrated in TI technology. “Programming is a way of learning mathematics by excellence,” says Raul. “I have been using programming to show students that technology is a support, and has flaws, from an early age. I would definitely like my school to place more value on teaching programming.” Paulo thinks the switch to Python will bring more advantages. Python, he says, is an open language dedicated to programming which will “give us more flexibility and will allow the use of more sensors.”

Happy with Python
If given the choice, many of the students would start with Python today. “I would love it to be possible to program in Python with the calculator,” says Pedro Ramalho. “It would make things a lot easier.” Finnish exchange participant Kelpo, who has not studied coding at school, says he believes it would be fun to have coding integrated into his school’s curriculum. Hugo has already tried to learn Python himself. “There is a lot to learn,” he says. “And I believe that investing in the calculator to allow programming in Python is definitely a good option.” Mariana already has some experience with Python and is happy with the integration of the language into TI technology. “It’s a higher-level language that’s easier to understand and to read,” she points out. “It will simplify coding with the calculator!”

Activities to download and loan program technology
Would you like to work on a project like this in your school or do this project during an exchange program yourself? Check the T³ Europe resources portal for activities with the Rover. As a teacher you can benefit from the Texas Instruments loan program and use TI technology for 1 month without any costs. In that way you could have your students work with the TI-Innovator and Rover free of charge. Please check our website to find your local loan program (click ‘site’ to select your country).