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A Low-cost Manufacturing Outreach Activity for Elementary School Students

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Progress in Manufacturing Education III

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.61.1 - 25.61.9

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Paper Authors


Kevin L. Devine Illinois State University

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Kevin Devine coordinates the Engineering Technology program at Illinois State University and has experience with K-12 outreach in the areas of manufacturing and engineering design graphics.

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Corinne Zimmerman Illinois State University

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Corinne Zimmerman is an Associate Professor of psychology at Illinois State University. Zimmerman's research focuses on the development of scientific reasoning skills and scientific literacy.

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A Low-Cost Manufacturing Outreach Activity for Elementary School StudentsMany postsecondary manufacturing programs across the country are exploring ways to reach outto K-12 students to help attract the next generation of students into STEM careers.Unfortunately, with ever-tightening budgets in both K-12 and postsecondary education, manyschool districts are cutting back on field trips and extra-curricular activities that often accompanymanufacturing-related STEM outreach activities. This paper will describe a very low-costrobotics-related manufacturing outreach activity that was conducted with elementary schoolstudents over (N=143). A description of the outreach activity and data collected by the researchteam will be provided.As a pre-test measure, we took inspiration from the “Draw-a-Scientist Test” (Chambers, 1983)and asked elementary school children to “draw a picture of a robot doing something that robotsdo.” Participants were 143 children (82 male), including 37 first-graders (M = 6.9 years), 49second-graders (M = 8.0 years), and 56 third-graders (M = 8.9 years). Humanoid robots weremost prevalent (91%). Only 7% drew their robot being controlled in some way (e.g., buttonpresses, remote control). These findings support the idea of a robot “stereotype” as anautonomous geometric humanoid.The outreach activity, conducted with second grade students (n=49), was comprised of an in-class presentation, including videos of industrial robots, which was followed by in-class robot“programming” activities. The programming activities introduced students to the Cartesiancoordinate system “grid” and required students to plan and program the steps required for a robotto move a series of blocks to create a specific pattern. A simple robot programming languagewas created to allow groups of students to write and “run” their robot programs. Childrenchosen from the class took turns being the “robot” and moved step-by-step as instructed in theprogram created by their peers. Planning and math errors were discovered in a good-naturedway and all students actively participated in debugging the robot programs.Posttest measures included a second draw a robot task identical to the drawing task performed inthe pre-test. Students also wrote journal entries describing what they learned in the activity. Forcomparison purposes, first-grade (n=37) and third-grade (n=56) students were also asked tocomplete the robot drawing task.The study revealed that the elementary students’ conceptions of robots changed from naïve torealistic with instruction, and this change was reflected in their drawings both immediately andafter a 3-month delay. Furthermore, student journal entries and teacher comments clearlyindicate that the students enjoyed the outreach activity and that it enhanced studentunderstanding of the coordinate system grid.Key features of the outreach activity include:  It is very low-cost and minimizes impact on the children’s school schedule;  It engages the children in hands-on learning in small groups;  It directly relates to the children’s studies in mathematics, which is covered on the state achievement examination; It has a measureable impact on students’ conception of industrial robots immediately and after a 3-month delay.

Devine, K. L., & Zimmerman, C. (2012, June), A Low-cost Manufacturing Outreach Activity for Elementary School Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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