The Principles of Educational Robotic Applications (ERA)

  • Published August 16, 2010
  • By Dave Catlin and Mike Blamires
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The original educational robots were the Logo Turtles. They derived their rationale from constructionism. How has this changed? This paper postulates ten principles that underpin the effective utilisation of robotic devices within education settings. We argue that they form a framework still sympathetic to constructionism that can guide the development, application and evaluation of educational robots. They articulate a summary of the existing knowledge as well as suggesting further avenues of research that may be shared by educationalists and designers. The principles also provide an evaluative framework for Educational Robotic Applications (ERA). This paper is an overview of the ideas, which we will develop in future papers.

Catlin, D. and Blamires, M. (2010). The Principles of Educational Robotic Applications (ERA): A framework for understanding and developing educational robots and their activities. Proceedings of Constructionism 2010, American University, Paris, France.



The ten Educational Robotic Application (ERA) Principles provide a framework for evaluating or developing education robots and their activities.  One principle, Embodiment, states: “Students learn by intentional and meaningful interactions with educational robots situated in the same space and time.”  This definition claims there’s a different experience between using physical and virtual robots.   This doesn’t say there isn’t educational value in ‘Turtle’ images running around a computer screen.  It does mean they’re different, and all the claims made by ERA do not apply to virtual robots.

Although, I believe this statement whole-heartedly, the supporting evidence was flimsy.  It consisted of:

  1. Work on embodied cognition, and AI and robotics.
  2. Seymour Papert’s original ‘body-syntonic’ notion.  That is, children can imagine themselves to be the robot, and play Turtle by walking through the problem.
  3. Some interesting research by French mathematicians, Berthelot and Salin, showed student’s lack of experience of ‘meso’ and ‘macro’ space hindered children’s understanding of ‘micro’ space.   Your desktop or computer screen is ‘micro’ space.  Your experience of the room is ‘meso’ space and the wide-open space is ‘macro’ space.  Work with a robot, like Roamer, covers ‘micro’ and ‘meso’ space.
  4. Teachers experience of using the robot with children provides the most encouraging evidence: most agree, children get more from working with physical robots.
    Since Mike Blamires and I wrote the original paper, I’ve uncovered more supporting evidence.  The first comes from a review of social robots for education.  It claims evidence to show the effective use of social robots is because “…of their physical presence, which traditional learning technologies lack.”

Another reference comes from Sylvia Weir, one of the pioneers who worked with Seymour Papert in the early days.  She wrote, “The inventors of Logo treated the physical turtle much the same as the screen turtle, but children do not (Weir, 1987: p154).”  She also reports improved performance of autistic children using a Turtle robot over their achievements with a virtual creature (Weir, 1987: p63 – 74).  I think you’d make a mistake if you dismissed Weir’s comments as something to do with autistic students.  Her observations have general applicability.

Weir, S. (1987). Cultivating Minds: A Logo Case Book. Longman Higher Education.

Pedagogical Principle

This principle states:

“The science of learning underpins a wide range of methods available for using with appropriately designed educational robots to create effective learning scenarios.”

This principle has two parts:

  1. Understanding the theories underpinning the use of robots.
  2. A set of strategies for creating activities.


When Papert presented LOGO and Turtle robots in Mindstorms, he used Piaget’s constructionist ideas as a backdrop. ERA takes a practical approach: it believes in the science of learning but judges its value on its effectiveness in helping the child learn. 

In the original ERA Paper, Mike and I identified 28 different types of activities. We simply presented a list. Most people understand Games, challenges and problem-solving; but, what about the Provocateur and Catalyst? We offered no explanation – simply because of the conference’s limit on the article length. I corrected this by adding one more item to the list and publishing “29 Effective Ways You Can Use Robots in the Classroom.”  

Catlin, D. (2016). 29 Effective Ways You Can Use Robots in the Classroom: An Explanation of ERA Pedagogical Principle. Edurobotics 2016.


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