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A Robotics-focused Instructional Framework for Design-based Research in Middle School Classrooms

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Fundamental: Tools and Content for K-12 Engineering Education

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.103.1 - 26.103.19



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Paper Authors


Matthew Moorhead NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

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Matthew Moorhead received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2014. He is currently pursuing a M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, Brooklyn, NY, where he is a teaching fellow in their GK-12 program. Matthew also conducts research in the Mechatronics and Controls Laboratory with an interest in robotics and controls.

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Jennifer B Listman NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

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Dr. Jennifer Listman is the Assistant Director, Program Development and Evaluation, Center for K12 STEM Education, New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering. As the Center’s resident research scientist, she conducts and publishes assessments and outcomes evaluations of Center programs for stewardship, research, and development purposes. Dr. Listman received her B.A. in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and her PhD in Anthropological Genetics from New York University in 2009. She conducted research on human evolutionary and migratory history in South East Asian populations and Jewish populations using genomic data and carried out collection of saliva samples as a DNA source from over 500 individuals in rural Thailand, to create a DNA resource of six ethnic populations. In addition, while Associate Research Scientist at Yale University School of Medicine, she conducted research on the evolutionary history of genes involved in alcohol metabolism and substance abuse. She has been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

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Vikram Kapila NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Vikram Kapila is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering (SoE), where he directs a Mechatronics and Control Laboratory, a Research Experience for Teachers Site in Mechatronics and Entrepreneurship, a GK-12 Fellows project, and a DR K-12 research project, all funded by NSF. He has held visiting positions with the Air Force Research Laboratories in Dayton, OH. His research interests include K-12 STEM education, mechatronics, robotics, and control system technology. Under Research Experience for Teachers Site and GK-12 Fellows programs, funded by NSF, and the Central Brooklyn STEM Initiative (CBSI), funded by six philanthropic foundations, he has conducted significant K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach activities to integrate engineering concepts in science classrooms and labs of dozens of New York City public schools. He received NYU-SoE’s 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2014 Jacobs Excellence in Education Award, 2002 Jacobs Innovation Grant, 2003 Distinguished Teacher Award, and 2012 Inaugural Distinguished Award for Excellence in the category Inspiration through Leadership. Moreover, he is a recipient of 2014-2015 University Distinguished Teaching Award at NYU. In 2004, he was selected for a three-year term as a Senior Faculty Fellow of NYU-SoE’s Othmer Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. His scholarly activities have included 3 edited books, 7 chapters in edited books, 1 book review, 55 journal articles, and 109 conference papers. He has mentored 1 B.S., 16 M.S., and 4 Ph.D. thesis students; 31 undergraduate research students and 11 undergraduate senior design project teams; over 300 K-12 teachers and 100 high school student researchers; and 18 undergraduate GK-12 Fellows and 59 graduate GK-12 Fellows. Moreover, he directs K-12 education, training, mentoring, and outreach programs that currently enrich the STEM education of over 1,100 students annually.

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A Robotics-Focused Instructional Framework for Design-Based Research in Middle School Classrooms Design-based research (DBR) is an iterative process in which teaching and learning theories arecreated and improved with empirical evidence to gain an understanding of how and why thedesigned learning works. In this paper, we employ the constructs of DBR, in the context of arobotics-based instructional framework, to support both student and teacher learning in severalways. First, the use of robotics serves to help stimulate an interest in science, technology,engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning for students. Second, the different learning stylesof audio, visual, and kinesthetic are supported through the use of a robotics platform, offeringteachers more versatility within lesson plans while effectively reaching all students. Third,robotics can help break the silos of the underlying disciplines of STEM to help realize the visionof integrating these disciplines. Such integration can show the students and teachers therelationship between different classroom topics and their relevancy to real-world problems.The paper will present an examination of the process of DBR while incorporating a robotics-based instructional framework to develop theories and artifacts that will help enhance andengage students in STEM fields. The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 educational kit is used in theclassroom for all lessons, offering a hands-on, interactive learning environment. Furthermore, theuse of instructional scaffolding is integrated into the robotics learning sequence to help thestudents progress through the lessons while internalizing the knowledge needed to completegiven tasks. Instructional scaffolding is an ideal starting point for this research as its methodsparallel those used in design-based research. DBR connects teachers and subject matter expertsinto a design partnership responsible for documenting and steering the learning environmenttowards the most effective course. During the progression of each phase of the robotics learningsequence, the students are encouraged and supported to create clear goals for that particularphase. As the students’ progress through each phase they are given less guidance and instructionaccording to their level of understanding, an approach consistent with instructional scaffoldingtechniques. Three 7th grade classes are taught concurrently over the span of several months tofacilitate the iterative process fundamental to DBR methods. Sufficient time between each classallows the teacher-expert team to make adjustments to the learning environment and implementthese changes for the next class. Careful documentation of students’ learning styles and effectiveteaching methods is maintained through each iteration to track the progression of the DBR.Phase one of the robotics learning sequence consist of the construction of a robot chassis. In thisphase students are given instruction on frames, symmetry, load, and center of mass. They areguided through the construction of the robot chassis and the design process using build andrebuild exercises. In the second phase students create a drive mechanism for the robot. Lessonsin this phase include gear ratios and motors. Phase three incorporates transducers into the robotwhere the students learn about the different sensors and actuators. The fourth phase deals withrobot motion and includes lessons on translation and rotation. Lastly students learn to programtheir robots to accomplish different tasks. The breadth of knowledge covered in this sequence isimportant as it helps crosscut different aspects of all STEM fields within each phase. Byapplying several different math concepts while having fun and creating something tangible helpsalleviate math fears in students and shows real-world relevancy. The full paper will includedesign changes made at each iteration as well as recommendations for future work.

Moorhead, M., & Listman, J. B., & Kapila, V. (2015, June), A Robotics-focused Instructional Framework for Design-based Research in Middle School Classrooms Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23444

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