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This Teacher Is Transforming Learning With Tai Chi-Loving Robots

The adorable humanoids are a big hit with her autistic students.

24/03/2017 3:02 PM AEDT | Updated 28/03/2017 12:50 PM AEDT
Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards
Dr Christine Roberts-Yates was awarded for her pioneering work in disability education on Friday.

Robots teaching lessons sounds like science fiction, but for the students of Murray Bridge High School, it's an everyday reality.

Assistant Principal at Murray Bridge High School, Dr Christine Roberts-Yates, is behind the futuristic learning approach, and now the rest of the education community is sitting up and taking notice.

For the past 15 years, the veteran disabilities educator has revolutionised the Disability Unit at the South Australian public school, from introducing animal-assisted learning (think bunnies and baby lambs) to getting the latest tech for her students.

"Every student has a laptop, every student has an iPad. I think that's important for all students in the 21st century," she told the Huffington Post Australia.

Roberts-Yates is one of twelve recipients of the inaugural Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards, which recognise the work of outstanding teachers in some of the most challenging schools in Australia -- from the principal of the most remote school in Western Australia to the YouTube sensation who is getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Roberts-Yates has been at Murray Bridge for fifteen years, and manages the school's Disability Unit -- a specialised centre catering to up to 30 students with disabilities ranging from mild to severe. About half of the students have autism.

The unit is designed to simulate a workplace environment to help prepare the students for life after school and potential employment.

"It gives them the work skills and ethic and the appropriate attitude to work," Roberts-Yates explained.

"They do work experience each term and some of them go into business services, depending on their ability.

The Unit's state-of-the-art industrial kitchen allows the students to cook meals for external events, and they also work to support charities, including embroidering blankets for the homeless which go to the Salvation Army and assembling birthing kits for women in Africa.

"We want them to be productive citizens of tomorrow, so this is their chance to consolidate their skills," Roberts-Yates said.

But it's not all hard work. They also get to hang out with these guys:

Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
Who wouldn't want to do tai chi with this little guy?

The adorable NAO humanoid robots are programmed by the teaching staff to teach the students particular skills, from spelling to times tables.

"The physical features are engaging but bland so that reduces sensory overload for students with autism," Roberts-Yates explained.

"The robots provide positive feedback. They are patient and non-judgemental -- for example, they will instruct [the students] on how to use the iPad or use the raspberry pi."

They also lead the students in yoga and tai chi -- and who could say no to that?


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