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Researching the Integration of Robotics into Middle School Physical Science Courses: Examining Instructional and Learning Outcomes

Sponsor: TERC Inc

Debra Bernstein [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Michael Cassidy (Co-Principal Investigator)
Karen Mutch-Jones (Co-Principal Investigator)
Kristen Wendell (Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

As computing has become integral to the practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the STEM+Computing program seeks to address emerging challenges in computational STEM areas through the applied integration of computational thinking and computing activities within STEM teaching and learning in early childhood education through high school (PreK-12). Robotic technologies provide innovative ways of engaging students in computational thinking (CT) practices within STEM fields, but teachers may be reluctant to use robotics if they do not feel confident with the technology, or when they feel unprepared to make the technology relevant to their subject areas. This project responds to such reluctance by designing, testing, and refining a professional development program for middle school physical science teachers to: 1) develop and strengthen skills in robotics, programming, and identifying ways of using robotics to enhance the teaching and learning of physical science concepts, and 2) design integrated curriculum units that advance student CT skills and support learning in the physical sciences. The project will develop a comprehensive, 50-hour professional learning experience for middle school teachers who will develop learning modules that integrate computational thinking with physical science. After the professional learning experience, teachers will be supported in revising an existing physical science unit to incorporate computational thinking and robotics using a Hummingbird Bit robotics kit. The professional learning plan will begin with a 5-day summer session where teachers will examine exemplars of robotics integration in STEM lessons, explore robotics resources, and consider ways that robotics and CT can be used to enhance student learning in a curriculum unit on force and motion. During the following academic year, teachers will design and implement a lesson that integrates robotics with study of force and motion, and this experience will be followed by two professional learning days where teachers will discuss the successes and challenges of the implemented lessons. Prior to spring semester, teachers will meet together again for a day of lesson planning.

This project aims to advance knowledge about how to support teachers as designers of technology-enhanced instruction that integrates computing and CT with topics in physical science. The specific goals of project are to: 1) Design, test, and refine a professional development model that enables middle school physical science teachers to design instructional units that incorporate robotics to enhance student CT practices and support disciplinary learning objectives, 2) Identify the types and levels of supports that enable teachers to successfully implement integrated robotics units to increase engagement and interests among diverse learners, and 3) Conduct research to refine the professional development model and document the impacts of engaging students with computational technologies on learning of physical science and CT. Over the course of three years, the project will engage 22 teachers and approximately 1,120 middle school students. Project research will proceed in a design-test-revise cycle in pursuing answers to the following research questions: 1) How can a professional development intervention enable integration of robotics into physical science courses? 2) To what extent does teacher enactment reflect the goals and principles of the approach to integration, and what challenges do teachers face during enactment? 3) How does participation in integrated robotics lessons support student learning in the discipline? And 4) What opportunities does participation in integrated robotics lessons provide for students to engage in computational thinking practices? A variety of data sources will be used to collect the quantitative and qualitative data to be used in the mixed-methods analysis of teacher, student, and classroom outcomes.

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