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Analysis Of Middle And High School Students’ Learning Of Science, Mathematics, And Engineering Concepts Through A Lego Underwater Robotics Design Challenge

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Robot Mania in Precollegiate Engineering Education

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.215.1 - 14.215.16



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Paper Authors

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Elisabeth McGrath Stevens Institute of Technology

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Susan Lowes Teachers College, Columbia University

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Peiyi Lin Teachers College, Columbia University

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Jason Sayres Stevens Institute of Technology

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Analysis of Middle and High School Student Learning of Science, Mathematics and Engineering Concepts Through a LEGO Underwater Robotics Design Challenge Abstract

The Build IT project is a university-school collaboration to increase precollege student interest and achievement in engineering, science, mathematics, and information technology through a novel underwater robotics project that utilizes LEGO Mindstorms kits, the NXT programmable brick, and related equipment. The project is being implemented in 36 socio-economically and academically diverse schools for students in Grades 7-12. Through a series of increasingly complex challenges, Build IT exposes students to science, mathematics, and engineering concepts such as buoyancy, Newton’s Laws, momentum, density, gear ratios, torque, forces, energy, volume, mass-weight distribution and simple machines. During the first year of classroom implementation, teams of students in a variety of classroom settings used LEGO components, wire-guided switches, motors and other equipment to design, construct, and control robots to maneuver in a 3-4 foot deep pool. This paper will explore the impact of the project on the students, specifically, changes in understanding of the key science concepts embedded in the curriculum and changes in knowledge about, and attitudes toward, engineering. It will also explore gender differences in attitudes toward the engineering aspects of the curriculum and in the pedagogical strategies embedded in the curriculum, including hands-on learning and group work.

Theoretical Framework

Robotics has been demonstrated as an effective vehicle to teach STEM concepts at many levels. The theoretical foundation for using robotics in education has been put forth by Jonassen, who described cognitive tools or “mindtools”1 that can enhance the learning process. Others have posited that robotics enables students to creatively explore computer programming, mechanical design and construction, problem solving, and collaboration,2, 3 as well as the ability to present open-ended problems that require integrative thinking.4 Robotics enables students to own their learning as they make choices and explore many paths in order to solve design challenges. Through the use of LEGO robotics technology, students learn various facets of problem solving while simultaneously mastering numerous mathematical and scientific concepts.

Riskowski et al. identified three components that engineering design brings to the study of science (in middle school settings), which support our theoretical framework: (1) interaction: engagement and relationship-building among groups to design-build-test an apparatus, whereby the individual contributions to a collective product or process is paramount; (2) artifact development: developing an artifact fosters the display of the groups’ communal knowledge as embodied in the artifact; and (3) critical analysis: a process of individual, small-group, and large- group (whole class) continual learning as designs are critiqued and improvements are suggested/tested.5 More specifically, designing robots encompasses elements of the engineering design process, and particularly, iterative design.

McGrath, E., & Lowes, S., & Lin, P., & Sayres, J. (2009, June), Analysis Of Middle And High School Students’ Learning Of Science, Mathematics, And Engineering Concepts Through A Lego Underwater Robotics Design Challenge Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4794

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