Humanoid Robot Research Project

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,
  • integration of the robots into theAustralian Curriculum
  • pedagogical approaches that enhance and extend student learning
  • leadership style that promotes the integration of emerging technologies into pedagogical practice


Our findings have shown 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 themes are providing a richer understanding of what deep student learning is when engaging with innovative technologies, and this deep learning is evident across a range of contexts from early childhood through to secondary.

Two NAO Humanoid Robots (‘Pink’ and ‘Thomas’) were purchased by the AISSA and provided to selected schools based on the quality of the application. The investigators in this research project are Ms Monica Williams (AISSA), Dr Therese Keane (Swinburne University), Dr Christina Chalmers (Queensland University of Technology) and Dr Marie Boden (Queensland University).

The 12 schools who participated in this project have been generous in sharing their learning with other schools. The ongoing dissemination of learning allowed each new school to build on the previous knowledge and understandings of how innovative technologies impacted on learning, pedagogy and the curriculum.

2019-2022 Publications
2016-2018 Publications
Research Findings

  • High engagement of students with NAO humanoid robots from 4 years of age to 15 years, across all demographics, cultural groups and genders.
  • The robots could be integrated into a range of curriculum areas.
  • The robots had a positive impact on students’ interest in robotics and programming.
  • Teachers were amazed at student capacity with NAO robots. Teachers saw their students in a new light- as capable, self-directed learners.
  • NAO robots provided multiple entry points for students; interactive conversations, drag and drop programming, manual timelines and coding in Python.
  • Some students from 11 years of age were so motivated they self-taught Python (a programming language used in industry), so they could be more creative in their programming.
  • Students often saw the robot as a sort of ‘friend’ or ‘child’ because of the humanlike qualities and teachers reported this meant that students persisted longer with their problem solving and coding.
  • Teachers who designed open ended tasks and saw their role as facilitators of learning, fostered the deepest learning in computational thinking and coding.
  • School leaders who were actively engaged in Humanoid Robot Project positively influenced teacher and student learning.

An analysis of the data revealed that the deep student learning that resulted in sophisticated computational thinking and coding was the result of a sequence of contributing factors. These factors are described in the model below.

4plus4 Model

Our findings have identified that curiosity and challenge foster critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication and that enables the development of high level skills in computational thinking and coding as described in our 4plus4 Model.

The 4plus4 Model highlights that curiosity arises from the engaging nature of technology and is a powerful motivator to explore and develop new ideas. This natural curiosity inspires students; however, curiosity on its own does not foster deep learning. Curiosity is enhanced by the complexity of the task and, combined with the challenge of solving complex open-ended learning tasks, can facilitate deep learning.

The 4Cs  (creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration and communication) supports students with complex challenges by getting them to creatively and critically look at problems in new ways, through the communication of ideas, and collaboration to develop solutions to the task. Through the 4Cs, computational thinking is supported as it allows students to collaboratively develop procedural thinking by breaking complex challenges into smaller tasks that can be solved. When computational thinking skills are developed, coding skills are expanded, as students build on their own and others’ ideas. The 4plus4 Model highlights how students can achieve success in computational thinking and coding, by incorporating the 4Cs and combining their natural curiosity in solving complex challenges.

National Recognition, Awards Conferences and Presentations


In November 2017, the Humanoid Robot Project won the Australian Computing Society Digital Disruptors Team Award for Service Transformation for the Digital Consumer (NFP).  The award was presented to the AISSA and our university partners; Swinburne University, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland, at the Crown Casino, Sydney.

This industry award is in recognition of the project design and implementation, in particular, the innovative way this project partnered with participating independent schools to create new knowledge about how humanoid robots could be used in the ELC – Year 10 educational context and how effectively this learning was disseminated. In partnership with participating member schools, we identified the impact that humanoid robots have on student learning and developed the 4plus4 model that explained how humanoid robots promoted high engagement and deep student learning. This research into innovative technologies has challenged assumptions about students’ learning potential in digital technologies  and has provided a project design and implementation model that can be used in the ELCs and schools to explore other emerging technologies in education.  The success of this project was a result of our strong partnership with participating AISSA member schools.

From left; The Hon Ed Husic, MP; Sandy Abrahams, Avanade Australia; Ben Fordham, Journalist; Monica Williams, AISSA; Marie Boden, Queensland University; Therese Keane, Swinburne University; Anthony Wong, President ACS. (Absent: Christina Chalmers, Queensland University of Technology)

National Recognition

ACARA Illustrations of Practice
ACARA selected the Maitland Lutheran School case study ‘What do a humanoid robot and the recently awakened Narungga language have in common? as one of eight examples from across the nation of how Digital Technologies could be embedded in learning of primary school students about the language and culture of the traditional owners of the land; the Narungga peoples.

Digital Technologies Hub
Digital Technologies Hub created 7 vignettes based on the case studies at Wilderness School and Maitland Lutheran School. These vignettes,  under the umbrella title of Robots in South Australia,  are designed to support school leaders and teachers embed the new ACARA Digital Technologies subject into classroom practice.


International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Brisbane 2018
Christina Chalmers, Marie Boden and Monica Williams presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, Education Forum 25 May 2018 on ‘New Technologies: Humanoid robots transform the classroom. In this forum we shared our findings about where humanoid robots fit in the curriculum generally and Digital Technologies in particular. We also shared our flexible and scalable project design that provided the evidence. South Australian Independent schools highlighted in this presentation include St George College, St Peter’s Girls School, Maitland Lutheran School and Immanuel College.

EduTECH International Congress and Expo 2018 Sydney
As invited speakers to EduTECH International Congress and Expo, Sydney 7-8 June 2018, Monica Williams and Therese Keane presented research on ‘Emerging technologies: will they add value to the learning in your school?’ In this presentation we discussed the predicted impact of emerging technologies on the business world and the importance of educators creating knowledge about how these technologies can benefit learning and teaching.  South Australian Independent schools highlighted in this presentation include St George College, St Peter’s Girls School, Maitland Lutheran School and Immanuel College.

National FutureSchools Melbourne 2018
As guest speakers at the 2018 National FutureSchools Conference in Melbourne 21-22 March 2018, Monica Williams and Therese Keane presented research on ‘New technologies, new ways of teaching students to code.’ The focus of this presentation was on how quickly and deeply students from the ELC to Year 10 learn to code when they have access to emerging technologies. This student learning was mapped against the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies subject.  Emerging technologies, such as humanoid robots, can both change the way students engage with their learning and teachers enact their pedagogy.


World Conference on Computers in Education July  2017 Dublin, Ireland
Abstract: Through the use of humanoid robots, a rural school in South Australia has included both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in embedding the “sleeping” language of the traditional owners of the land (the Narungga people) into the classroom. Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students worked with virtual and real humanoid robots to develop in parallel both their programming skills and their understanding of the Narungga language and culture. The study demonstrated how pride and interest in Aboriginal culture can be partially reclaimed using these inclusive and adaptive technologies. Simultaneously, students and educators were learning two languages; the coding language required to program the robot and the Narungga language.

Researchers from left: Dr Therese Keane (SUT) and Ms Monica Williams (AISSA) shared the findings of the Maitland Lutheran School case study (authored by Keane, Williams, Chalmers and Boden) as part of the wider Humanoid Robot Research Project at the World Conference for Computers in Education 2017.

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 2015-2018 Humanoid Robot Research Project at the Australian Council for Computers in Education Conference 2016.

Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Dynamics in Language Symposium February 2017 Brisbane:
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.

Documentaries and News
Four Corners: In 2016 Four Corners screened a documentary entitled Future Proof that included students at Good Shepherd Lutheran School Para Vista programming Pink, a humanoid robot.

Channel 9 News: In 2015 this news item ‘Australian classrooms to employ robots as educational tools’ investigated how humanoid robots were being used as educational tools  at St John’s Grammar School and Vineyard Lutheran School.



Case Studies


St George College

In 2017 St George College introduced their first STEM classes in Years 7-8 and Years 9-10. These classes focused on teaching students and their teachers aspects of the new ACARA Digital Technologies curriculum through embedding a  humanoid robot into the learning and teaching.

New Technologies New Learning

Jelena the Year 9-10 STEM teacher discusses how the humanoid robot changed her attitude to Digital Technologies. This new technology provided a positive experience for both the students and the teacher in this new learning discipline. Jelena found that because the technology was so innovative, she changed the way she approached her role as teacher, and in so doing found out new and unexpected ways to improve student engagement and learning.

Emerging Technologies: Learning Together

The humanoid robot in the classroom changed the attitudes of school leaders and teachers to Digital Technologies. Year 7-8 STEM teacher Vicki discusses how it was necessary to change her pedagogy because she was dealing with an emerging technology and the students and she were learning together. She found this collaborative learning approach promoted more active, self-directed learners and problem solvers. Through engaging with this emerging technology Vicki learnt new things about her own professional interests and a pedagogical approach, and that this new learning  was transferable to other learning areas.

STEM: Career in Robotics

Rosa (Year 10, St George College) discusses her experience of doing STEM for the first time and how she learnt that she has the aptitude and capabilities for computer science. She now aspires to a career in robotics.

Year  7 & 8 St George College: Python in one lesson

Vicki, the Year 7- 8 Stem teacher at St George’s College, South Australia explains how she introduced Python (a general purpose programming language used in industry).  All the Year 7 and 8 students in the class were able to use Python code to program a NAO humanoid robot to nod and speak in 40 minutes. Vassili, a Year 8 student in the class discusses  how he used text instructions to code in Python and demonstrates how he inserted Python code into the NAO Choregraphe software to control the NAO robot.

Year 7 & 8 STEM: Facial Recognition Software

Vassili, a Year 8 STEM student at St George College, explains how to program a humanoid robot to recognise a face. Vassili explains how he used the NAO Choregraphe drag and drop software to create a program that allowed the robot to recognise one face. This can be repeated for a number of faces. Vassili also added a little creativity to this facial recognition program, by including a step that made the eyes go red.

Can a robot teach you to like Maths?

Anastasia and Gufran, two Year 8 STEM  students from St George College South Australia,  discuss how programming ‘Pink’ a NAO humanoid robot to dance changed their attitude to Mathematics. This programming took them 3 – 4 weeks with one lesson a week. There was considerable Mathematics involved in the programming.  As a consequence the students now feel more confident about Maths because they have been able  to program a robot.


Maitland Lutheran School

The students and teachers at Maitland Lutheran School embedded the language of the traditional owners of the land – the Narungga people, into the new ACARA Digital Technologies subject. This case study explored how Narungga, the ‘sleeping’ language of one of the oldest living cultures in the world could be reinvigorated using an emerging technology, in this case a humanoid robot.

Pink, the NAO humanoid robot was integrated into the teaching and learning at Maitland Lutheran School in South Australia as part of the process of building respect and understanding about the Narungga language and culture. In this case study, the ACARA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross curriculum priority was embedded into everyday classroom learning through the new Digital Technologies subject. In this case study, the school Principal worked in partnership with the local Aboriginal peoples and through them, invited the only fluent speaker of Narungga (Tania Wanganeen, a Narungga woman) to share her knowledge of Narungga language and culture with the students and teachers.

Tania developed confidence of the teachers and students to correctly speak aspects of the Narungga language and then, the teachers and the students used their knowledge of Narungga language to program Pink to speak in Narungga. The students and teachers were learning two ways of communicating simultaneously, the ancient language of Narungga and the more recent humanoid robot  programming language. The video below captures some of the learning in the Year 1, 2  and Year 4 classrooms in Term 3 and 4 2016.



Peter discusses how the human like qualities of the robot fosters resilience and problem solving in students as they work collaboratively to program Pink. Peter’s Year 3 students created a program so that the humanoid robot could walk through a maze that represented parts of Australia and used Narungga place names. This actively required Year 3 students combining mathematical thinking and computational thinking so that Pink could successfully be programmed to navigate through the maze.


Acknowledgement of Country in Narungga

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 Year 1 and Year 2 Aboriginal students created pictures of animals native to the local area prior to invasion and programmed Pink using visual recognition software to say the name for the animal in Narungga. So, when when Pink recognised the picture that had been pre-programmed by the students, she said the name of the animal in Narungga.


These students also used facial recognition software to program Pink to recognise individual student faces and then greet them in Narungga. Ameerah pictured below, programmed Pink to say ‘Nigh Ameerrah knuckle ja‘ which means ‘I see Ameerah’.

Wilderness School

As part of the introduction to the humanoid robot project in Term 2 2106, all the students in Year 6 and 7 created YouTube tutorials that demonstrated step by step how to program using a NAO virtual robot. 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:


Coreographe 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 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.

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.

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.


Immanuel College

In Term 3 and 4 2015 the humanoid robot Pink was part of the Immanuel College 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.

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 student learning.

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 the NAO humanoid robot. This work focussed on the new ACARA Digital Technologies subject and there were opportunities to integrate mathematics and numeracy into the Digital Technologies classroom. The first two videos provide some insights into this learning and how mathematics and numeracy were integrated. In the third video, Thomas was programmed to sing to the Ukelele and this required trial and error in manipulating the speed of the robot’s speech so that eventually the students identified the placement on the robot’s speech speed scale where the lyrics and the music were in unison.


Year 5 NAO Project 2016


Year 6 Girls Project 2016


NAO Sings with the Ukelele Club


Year 3 Action Research Project

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 – Conversations with Izzy

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.


St John’s Grammar School and Vineyard Lutheran School

In Term 2 2015 Thomas worked with secondary students at the St John’s Grammar IT class and Pink worked with students at Vineyard Lutheran school. Channel 9 visited both schools to explore how humanoid robots could be used as educational tools.