Kids love to build things. Kids also love robots.
That’s why Robothink, a Chicago-based company launched in 2016 by Danny Park, was created to educate kids in STEM through building and coding robots. The company's goal is to lay the foundation for kids to pursue careers in STEM-based occupations.
“We design and manufacture our own proprietary line of robotic building kits,” Park said. “It’s really unique in the industry. Kids don’t need to learn to use a screwdriver or soldering iron. It’s all a modular building system.
Learning and building takes place in one of the 20 weekend and after-school workshops RoboThink hosts across the United States.
No one has developed a vertically integrated, comprehensive coding education system or workbook before.”
Kids use the materials provided by the company to learn a concept code, build a robot from RoboThink’s Lego-esque plastic components, and then apply the concept code to the build to make it perform certain functions.
These functions can include directing a wheeled robot to move via remote control, programming robotic arms to lift small objects or attaching motion sensors to the jaws of a robot with an alligator mouth.
The products are made for kids ages five through 14 years old. Each curriculum contains projects of varying degrees of difficulty ranging from beginner to advanced.
But unlike for educational programs in subjects that would be traditionally taught in schools, there are no precursors for how STEM programs are designed or taught. While STEM courses do exist in some U.S. schools, there are no formal guidelines for designing a hands-on curriculum.
So RoboThink needed to pave its own way.
“Because coding education and robotics education for kids is so new, there is no set standard like there is for math or English education,” Park said. “So a lot of the content we develop, like the workbooks and curriculum we create, it’s really all new. No one has developed a vertically integrated, comprehensive coding education system or workbook before.”
Park decided to start the company following his travels to Korea and China, where he noticed students enrolled in mandatory STEM education courses. They were also dramatically outperforming U.S. children in knowledge and comprehension of STEM subjects.
“The public education system is not doing enough to have our students catch up to the rest of the world,” he said. “So it’s up to private companies like us to see what we can do to break ground in setting standards and developing new content and curriculum.”
In addition to hosting its own workshops, RoboThink also offers its products and services to YMCAs and local schools. Like-minded individuals with business acumen can also work with RoboThink to franchise their own learning centers.
“We’ll help them get started and give them training on our materials and licenses to our software and products so they can make an impact in their communities,” Park said.
The emphasis on helping communities and developing the young minds of the future manifests directly with its in-office staff as well.
“We focus on passion for teaching, more so than their coding or engineering experience,” Park added. “In the hiring process, the thing we always prioritize is the applicant’s ability to deal with kids and their ability to break things down and to present them in a palatable way. Those are the skills we try to exemplify a lot, and then the technical stuff will come after.”