Can Robotics Help Kids Learn Science?

Turning kids on to science and math with robotics has become routine, at least since the FIRST Robotics Competition began in 1992. But there is currently very little evidence about whether robots can actually teach students science, or whether they just serve to excite students already interested in science and engineering. Given the right context and design challenge, can robotics-based activities engage girls as much as boys?  Are there differences in the way rural students engage in these types of materials, compared with urban or suburban students?

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Georgia Tech is starting a five-year, $3.5 million National Science Foundation study to discover how effective robotics and engineering design are at teaching eighth grade physical science content, and at increasing students’ interest and engagement in science, math and engineering.

To help answer these questions, researchers and curriculum developers from Georgia Tech's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) and Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) are beginning a five-year, $3.5 million National Science Foundation study to discover how effective robotics and engineering design are at teaching eighth grade physical science content, and at increasing students' interest and engagement in science, math and engineering.

"Robots are good at increasing students' engagement in science and engineering, but there's no solid evidence to tell us what they actually learn from robotics. Do the students learn science and math, or are they just having fun," said Marion Usselman, senior research scientist and associate director at CEISMC.

The program is known as the Science Learning: Integrating Design, Engineering and Robotics program (SLIDER). The SLIDER team is currently developing the curriculum and tracking the progress of sixth grade students in science and math. By the time those students enter eighth grade in the 2011-12 school year, the research team will have good longitudinal data to show how they performed in science and math before the robotics instruction began.

Georgia Tech is developing a LEGO robotics curriculum that consists of three six-week modules to be used in physical science classes.   The curriculum will be implemented in 2011 at three Georgia schools--an urban school (Bear Creek Middle in Fulton County), a suburban school (East Cobb Middle in Cobb County) and a rural school (Swainsboro Middle in Emanuel County).  Students in the eighth grade will then be studied to determine what they are learning from the engineering design curriculum, and in ninth and tenth grade to determine whether their engagement in science has increased.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

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