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Examining the Role of LEGO Robots as Artifacts in STEM Classrooms

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Shramana Ghosh New York University

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Shramana Ghosh received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Irvine in 2017, her Masters in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2013, and her Bachelors in Manufacturing Processes and Automation Engineering from University of Delhi in 2011.
She is currently working as a postdoctoral associate at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, NYU Tandon School of Engineering, NY, USA. In this role she supports and studies use of robotics in K-12 STEM education. Her other research interests include robotics, mechanical design, and biomechanics.

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Pooneh Sabouri New York University

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Pooneh Sabouri received her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning, focusing on science education at New York University. She has a master’s degree in mathematics education and statistics from The University of Texas at Austin and earned her bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Iran. Pooneh is interested in teacher learning and how to co-develop theoretical tools with teachers to inform and expand their teaching practices. She is a postdoctoral associate at Tandon School of Engineering at New York University, where she studies teachers' experiences as they learn about robotics, how they envision incorporating robotics in their curriculum and challenges that they face.

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Vikram Kapila New York University Orcid 16x16

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Vikram Kapila is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering (NYU Tandon), where he directs a Mechatronics, Controls, and Robotics Laboratory, a Research Experience for Teachers Site in Mechatronics and Entrepreneurship, a DR K-12 research project, and an ITEST 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 a Research Experience for Teachers Site, a DR K-12 project, 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 Tandon’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. His scholarly activities have included 3 edited books, 9 chapters in edited books, 1 book review, 63 journal articles, and 164 conference papers. He has mentored 1 B.S., 40 M.S., and 5 Ph.D. thesis students; 64 undergraduate research students and 11 undergraduate senior design project teams; over 500 K-12 teachers and 130 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 enrich the STEM education of over 1,000 students annually.

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Educational robotics has become a widely used technological and pedagogical tool in many K-12 classrooms across the United States. Through well-designed activities, students can manipulate robots and engage in enjoyable and meaningful hands-on learning while constructing knowledge regarding essential grade-appropriate STEM concepts. In particular, the presence of programmable LEGO robots as artifacts in STEM classrooms have significantly enhanced the nature and scope of science inquiry and engineering practices that can be conducted in K-12 classrooms, especially over the last decade. The utility of robotics as a learning tool in STEM classrooms is supported by the theories of constructivism and constructionism.

Different approaches to integrating robotics in K-12 settings to support the development of students’ cognitive, collaborative, and language skills have drawn substantial attention from many researchers. Additionally, strategies to develop inclusive educational programs using robotic activities include: 1) developing projects that focus on themes and not just challenges; 2) projects that combine art and engineering; 3) projects that encourage storytelling; and 4) organizing exhibitions rather than competitions. Moreover, to encourage continuing student progress, optimal configuration of robots as “black-and-white-box designs” must be provided to students by educators keeping in mind the practical constraints of implementing robotics activities as a part of regular school curriculum.

With the increased used of robotics to support learning in K-12 classrooms and beyond, greater attention must be directed towards the different features of these complex technological artifacts. The physicality of robots has long been considered to aid students in constructing knowledge. This is particularly true for engineering and technology disciplines that inherently entail a physical aspect. However, in addition to utilizing robotics to introduce students to advanced scientific and technical concepts, robots are increasingly used for engaging student interest in varied disciplines through project-based interdisciplinary activities. Through their functional roles as artifacts, educational robots may be conferred attributes such as capability to produce data when conducting an experiment or requiring students to have certain skills in the construction or operation of robot to complete the activity, among others. The learning outcomes of teaching using such complex technological artifacts must be analyzed by adequately considering the role played by the robot in learning process.

Due to their materiality, researchers have shown, that artifacts contribute to scaffolding student performance by: 1) building ‘common knowledge’, 2) supporting critical thinking, 3) making ‘new things visible, or familiar things visible in new ways’, 4) problematizing, and 5) serving as an adjunct to talk. In this work, we propose to examine the role played by the LEGO robot as an artifact in scaffolding student learning in six different science and math lessons. We will begin by discussing the six robotics-enhanced lessons jointly created and presented by teachers and students from six schools during an exposition day, held during the academic year as a follow-up to a summer teacher professional development program. Next, we will examine some key ideas related to scaffolding, particularly in the context of technological artifacts. We will then utilize these constructs to examine the manner in which the LEGO robots are used to scaffold student learning in the complex tasks presented to them and discuss their relative tradeoffs. As more K-12 schools continue to invest in robots as educational tools, it is imperative that educational LEGO robots are examined through the lens of their contributions to the support, challenges, and scaffolding they offer for student learning.

Ghosh, S., & Sabouri, P., & Kapila, V. (2020, June), Examining the Role of LEGO Robots as Artifacts in STEM Classrooms Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34620

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