Humanoid Robotics Projects

The AISSA Centre for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching & Learning fosters imaginative and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Research Project: "The Impact of Humanoid Robots on Student Learning 2015-2017"

The Association of Independent Schools of SA (AISSA) is collaborating with Swinburne University, the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology to understand the impact of humanoid robots on student learning, the integration of the robots into the Australian Curriculum and the pedagogical approaches that enhance and extend student learning. Our preliminary findings indicate an increase in student engagement, differentiation of student learning, self directed learning, deep learning, and a fostering of creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, coding and computational thinking. These emerging themes are providing a richer understanding of what deep student learning is, and this deep learning is evident across a range of contexts from early childhood through to secondary.

Two NAO Humanoid Robots (Thomas and Pink) are owned by the AISSA and provided to selected schools based on the quality of the application. The investigators in this research project are Monica Williams (AISSA), Dr Therese Keane (Swinburne University), Dr Chris Chalmers (Queensland University of Technology) and Dr Marie Boden (Queensland University). For more information about this research project contact Monica Williams (ph. 08 8179 1417 email

Schools and Early Learning Centres participating in this project have been generous in sharing their learning with other schools. This ongoing dissemination of learning has allowed each new school to build on the knowledge and understandings of how innovative technologies impact on learning, pedagogy and the curriculum. As part of the ongoing dissemination of learning, regular updates into the how students and teachers are engaging with Thomas and Pink will be posted on this site.

Research shared at Australian Council for Computers in Education Conference

October 2016 Brisbane

The main themes to emerge from the first year of the research found that there was an increase in student engagement, deep learning and a fostering of the 4Cs, (creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking) when humanoid robots were part of the learning. Teachers reported a shift in their pedagogical practices as a result of this new technology. These pedagogical shifts promoted student self-directed learning which led to complex computational thinking and coding. 

Research paper: ‘The impact of humanoid robots on students’ computational thinking’

Researchers from left: Dr Marie Boden (UQ), Dr Therese Keane (SUT), Ms Monica Williams (AISSA) and Dr Christina Chalmers (QUT) shared the findings of the first year of the 2015-2017 Humanoid Robot Research Project at the Australian Council for Computers in Education Conference 2016.

Research shared at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Dynamics in Language Symposium 

Brisbane 5-9 February 2017

Pink the Robot learns Narungga

Dr Marie Boden, University of Queensland, shared the findings of the Maitland Lutheran School case study at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Dynamics in Language Symposium.

The event was the yearly meeting for the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics in Language, an ARC funded centre working with the aim of preserving the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in Australia. 

Educators commented on the engagement and deep learning with the Narungga language triggered by the robot. There was particular interest in how the students had been creating their own phonetic writing so they could “teach” Pink to speak Narungga.

In Semester 1 2016, both the Education Today and the ACER Teacher Magazine published articles about our research project:

Dr Christina Chalmers, one of our 3 university based researchers, was an invited Keynote speaker at the ACER Excellence in Professional Practice Conference, May 2016. One of the 3 projects that Christina spoke about was the AISSA NAO project: NAO robots in the Australian Curriculum

Maitland Lutheran School

The students and teachers at Maitland Lutheran School have just begun a project to embed the language of the traditional owners of the land – the Narungga people, into the new Digital Technologies subject. This project is exploring how a ‘sleeping’ language of one of the peoples of the oldest living culture in the world can be bolstered using innovative technology. This video captures some of the learning in the Year 1 and Year 4 classroom in Term 3 2016.

Pink is being used as part of the process of building respect and understanding of the Narungga language and culture. This cross curriculum priority is being embedded into everyday classroom learning, in particular the learning in the subject of Digital Technologies. There is only one fluent speaker of Narungga (Tania Wanganeen, a Narungga woman) and she is working with Maitland Lutheran School to build the confidence of the teachers and students to speak the Narungga language and then program Pink to speak in Narungga.

Maitland Lutheran School, Narungga and NAO

Maitland Lutheran School students program Pink to walk through a maze with Narungga place names

Peter discusses how the human like qualities of the robot fosters resilience and problem solving in students as they work together to program Pink. Peter’s students created a program for Pink so that she could walk through a maze with Narungga place names. This involved combining mathematical thinking and computational thinking to have Pink successfully navigate through the maze.

Maitland Lutheran School students program Pink to say the Acknowledgement to Country in the Narungga language


Students at Maitland Lutheran School on the Yorke Peninsula programmed Pink to say the Acknowledgement to Country in the Narungga language. Narungga is the language of the traditional owners of the Yorke Peninsula.

The students found that the robot did not reproduce correct Narungga pronunciation from the spelling of some Narungga words, so they experimented with different phonetic combinations to create the correct pronunciation.

Year 1 and 2 students programmed Pink to do visual recognition and facial recognition.

The students created pictures of animals native to the local area and programmed Pink to say the name of the animal in Narungga when Pink saw that picture.

The students also programmed Pink to recognise individual student faces and then greet them in Narungga. Ameerah pictured left, programmed Pink to say 'Nigh Ameerrah knuckle ja' which means 'I see Ameerah'.

Immanuel College

In Term 3 and 4 2015 Pink was part of the Year 7 classroom. Pink was integrated into the English and HASS subjects and students reported that they found using a robot enriched their learning experience. Students also commented that Pink had a significant impact on their interest in coding and engaging with the robot motivated self-directed learning, including learning Python, a general purpose programming language used in the IT industry. The students also shared some insights into how easy it is to develop a 'connection' with the robot.

Immanuel College, Term 4, Year 7 2015

Good Shepherd Lutheran School Para Vista

One of the highlights of Pink being immersed in the Digital Technology learning at Good Shepherd Lutheran School Para Vista in Term 2 2016, was being part of the 4 Corners Future Proof program. The Good Shepherd students demonstrated programs they created for Pink and discussed the learning they will need for the future employment landscape, a landscape they will share with robots.

Wilderness School

All the Year 6 and 7 students created YouTube tutorials of how to program Thomas using a NAO virtual robot in Term 2 2016. The teachers commented that beginning with the virtual robot allowed students time to master the programming software, before engaging with programming Thomas, the real robot. Some examples of the student created tutorials:

Choregraphe timeline tutorial by Annie and Sarah

How to add a counter box to your movements by Phoenix and Katie

Our Saviour Lutheran School

In Term 1 2016, Pink was part of the Year 6 and Year 7 classes at Our Saviour Lutheran School and a frequent visitor to the German language classes. Ben Curtin, Assistant Principal of Our Saviour Lutheran School was interviewed by Education Today and the ACER Teacher Magazine. In these interviews he discusses the impact that the NAO root has had on student engagement and learning:

Ben Curtin: Differentiation

Ben Curtin, Assistant Principal of Our Saviour Lutheran School, discusses how Pink has been an effective tool for differentiation. He highlights the opportunities Pink provides to engage and extend students who experience success in their learning, and how the software is also accessible for students who, at times, require support in literacy and numeracy. He explains that the open nature of the software motivates the learners to select their own level of challenge.

Our Saviour Lutheran School, Ben Curtin: Differentiation

Emma Year 6 student: Collaboration

Emma emphasises the significant impact of the NAO robot on the way the students choose to go about their learning and discusses the importance of collaboration to promote deeper learning and creativity. She also reflects on how her experience with a humanoid robot has both encouraged and enabled her to be a self-directed learner.

Our Saviour Lutheran School, Emma Year 6 student: Collaboration

St Peter's Girls' School

In Term 3 2015, Thomas visited St Peter's Girls' School and spent time in the ELC, Foundation and Year 3 classes. The teachers reported learning new insights about their students as learners and about the pedagogy that most enabled computational thinking and deep learning.

St Peter's Girls School Humanoid Robot Research Project 2015

St Peter's Girls' School - Coding as a literacy in the ELC

St Michael's Lutheran Primary School

In Term 1 2016, the Year 5 and 6 students at St Michael's Lutheran Primary School explored aspects of the new Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies subject; algorithms, looping and branching using Thomas. There were links made to mathematics and numeracy. The first two videos provide some insights into this learning. In the third video, Thomas is programmed to sing to the Ukelele.

Year 5 NAO Project 2016 -

Year 6 Girls NAO Project 2016 - http://bit.ly1TJ8QLU

NAO sings with Ukelele Club = http://bit.ly1Ww9rpW

In Term 4 2015, 52 Year 3 students at St Michael's Lutheran Primary School integrated Thomas into their unit of inquiry,"All parts of my body work together to keep me alive." The action research question was "Can the use of a humanoid robot improve students' understanding of human body parts and how the parts work together to make a human move?"

The first video focuses on how the humanoid robot provided opportunities for all the Year 3 students to develop their computational thinking within the unit of inquiry.

Year 3 Action Research Project - http://bit.ly1lHRzrY

In the second video, Izzy a Year 3 student at St Michael's Lutheran Primary School, discusses how she created a program for Thomas to enact using the Choregraphe software and the virtual robot.

Year 3 Action Research Project - Conversations with Izzy -

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AISSA Humanoid Robot Research Project 2015

Thomas and Pink

Thomas and Pink are two humanoid robots that are making programming and robotics exciting and intellectually stimulating learning frontiers for students in Independent schools in South Australia. The NAO humanoid robots are built in France by Aldebaran. At 58 centimetres, with flashing eyes, flexible arms and legs, sensors, motors, and sophisticated software, Thomas and Pink ‘come to life’ in classrooms, speaking and listening to students and walking around.

The ‘magic’ of Thomas and Pink enthuses students to collaboratively create technical solutions aligned with numeracy, literacy and the new Digital Technology curriculum. More than anything, Thomas and Pink are fostering critical and creative thinking, collaborative problem solving and computational thinking - all essential skills and dispositions for life today and tomorrow.

In June 2015, Channel 9 News aired a story on the AISSA Humanoid Robot Research Project. This news item investigated how robots could be used as educational tools. As part of the investigation, the 9 News team visited Thomas at St John’s Grammar School and Pink at Vineyard Lutheran School. 

Research Project

The AISSA purchased these two humanoid robots in 2014 in response to strong interest from Principals. The NAO Humanoid Robot Research Project provides our schools with a unique opportunity to learn in a ‘hands on’ way, about a new technology and its impact on learning in the context of a classroom. This research will provide our community with knowledge and understanding about how robots can impact on student motivation and deep learning. It provides an opportunity to deepen teachers’ professional knowledge and an exciting way to extend student robotics and coding skills. As Thomas and P!nk have a range of skills, including German and Japanese, there is the potential to embed this new technology across the curriculum.

In 2015, the two robots are provided to schools for a term. The robots are part of a three year research project that commenced in Semester 1 2015 to investigate the impact of an innovative technology on student engagement and learning.

In this three year research project, the AISSA has partnered with Swinburne University, the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland to work with selected Independent schools to acquire a deeper understanding of:

  • how students interact with humanoid robots
  • the effect humanoid robots have on student learning
  • the pedagogical approaches and teaching strategies that promote the best learning outcomes for students.

School Participation

In Semester 1 2015, three schools were involved; St John’s Grammar School, St Peter’s College and Vineyard Lutheran School. In Semester 2 2015, five schools are involved; Immanuel College, Our Saviour Lutheran School, St Michael’s Lutheran School, St Peter’s Girls and Spring Head Lutheran School.

In 2016 and 2017 this opportunity will be extended to other SA Independent schools. Later this year, there will be an invitation sent to all Principals to submit a proposal for Semester 1 2016. It is anticipated that as part of this three year research project, over twenty schools will have the opportunity to engage with a humanoid robot.

Learning Opportunities

The NAO humanoid robots have a range of interactive games and behaviours that instantly engage students. The software enables students to program the robot to walk, talk and dance to their favourite music. The robots have a range of learning opportunities to offer students, depending on their age, interests and expertise. Teachers and students can opt for different levels when programming NAO. The easier option, accessible to even young children, is Choregraphe software which allows students to simply drag and drop actions for the robot to complete. At a more sophisticated level, students can use timelines and Python, a programming language.

While some students are programming behaviours in Thomas and Pink for ‘real,’ other students can be programming ‘virtual’ versions of Thomas and Pink. Each robot comes with thirty floating licenses, which means thirty computers can be accessing the virtual NAO robot at one time, while one computer can be connected to the real robot.

Emerging themes

There is some evidence that the interaction with humanoid robots improve numeracy confidence and mathematics achievement for primary school students, particularly in the number and measurement and geometry strands.

The early findings of the AISSA Humanoid Robot Research Project suggest increased student:

  • engagement and deep learning
  • collaborative problem solving
  • persistence/resilience.

Early findings indicate that improvement in student learning is dependent on the pedagogy, and that innovative technologies require us to be re-visioning the roles of teacher and learner. The initial evidence suggests that improvement in student engagement and learning is dependent on open ended tasks that foster student creativity. 

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