Analyzing Successful Teaching Practices in Middle School Science and Math Classrooms when using Robotics

A robotics-based curriculum offers numerous opportunities to enrich science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students and enables teachers to integrate engineering and computing techniques into educational programs. Prior studies have indicated significant role of robots in supporting myriad educational activities in classrooms, e.g., engaging participants in active learning, embedding kinesthetic experiences in learning, imparting intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to learners, and producing student satisfaction are all essential outcomes of robotic-focused educational framework. This paper analyzes teaching practices that successfully integrate robotics in middle school science and math classrooms. Effective classroom practices encourage interaction between educators and learners, provide opportunities for active participation of learners, impart motivation to them, and offer timely feedback. Moreover, teachers should know students’ misconceptions of content knowledge and address them.

In summer 2017, we conducted a three-week professional development (PD) program for 20+ middle school math and science teachers to teach STEM with robotics. During PD, participants learned and practiced developing robotics-based lessons with LEGO robots as a pedagogical tool. Afterwards, during the academic year, PD facilitators visited schools to observe teachers implement the robot-based lessons. To examine the effectiveness of using robotics for teaching and to uncover successful classroom practices, teachers were surveyed about their experiences in robotic and non-robotic classes. The survey questionnaire investigated students’ misconceptions in both robotic and non-robotic classes. Teacher practices in robotic and non-robotic classes were examined. The study was conducted in two seventh grade math and two seventh grade science classes.

Results of a pre-/post-test show that when comparing robotic versus non-robotic science lessons, 63% of students who performed robotic-based activities showed improvement versus 38% in the non-robotic class. For the math lessons, 30% of students in the robotic classes showed improvement compared to 56% in the non-robotic class. However, no students showed any decline on post-test in the robotic-based math class. Survey results showed that 83% of teachers agreed that robotics supported students’ understanding of science and math concepts and improved student engagement in classrooms by incorporating kinesthetic and visual learning opportunities. Moreover, results show that all teachers using any form of formative assessment methods (e.g., entrance ticket to test students’ prior knowledge, exit tickets, online assessments, students group observations, and providing checklist during activities for self-assessment) improved their knowledge of student misconceptions prior to implementing the robotics lesson.

Both the robotic and non-robotic classes may require the same STEM principles, but successful classroom practices require teachers’ understanding of students’ misconceptions and effectively addressing those using robotics. Results show that abstract science lessons are better suited for robotic-based activity because robots provide a visual representation. Without robots, abstract lessons remain abstract to students. Results show that for successful classroom practices using robotics, teachers need to identify the best set of: lesson for robotic activity, evaluation strategy for determining student engagement and progress, and students’ prior content knowledge and misconceptions. Complete description of the survey questionnaire, full qualitative analysis of survey and pre/post-test, and their results will be presented in the final paper.

Krishnan, V. J., Borges Rajguru, S., & Kapila, V. (2019). Analyzing successful teaching practices in middle school science and math classrooms when using robotics (Fundamental). Proceedings of the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Tampa, FL.