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Student Learning of STEM Concepts Using a Challenge-based Robotics Curriculum

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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

Research to Practice: STRAND 4 – K-12 Engineering Resources: Best Practices in Curriculum Design (Part 1)

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1419.1 - 26.1419.25



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Paper Authors


Mercedes M McKay Stevens Institute of Technology (SES)

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Mercedes McKay is Deputy Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at Stevens Institute of Technology. She has led several national and statewide K-14 teacher professional development and curriculum development programs in STEM education. McKay is co-PI and Project Director for the NSF-funded Build IT Scale Up project to develop and disseminate an innovative underwater robotics curriculum for middle and high school students. She is a former practicing engineer with high school science and mathematics teaching experience.

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Susan Lowes Teachers College/Columbia University

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Dr. Susan Lowes is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has conducted research at both university and K-12 levels, with a focus on STEM learning and on the impact of different technologies on teaching and learning. She has directed evaluations of multi-year projects funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the National Science Foundation, and served on Dept. of Education and NSF Advisory and Review panels. Dr. Lowes has worked extensively with Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Stevens Institute of Technology’s School of Engineering and Science. She has co-authored papers and presentations on STEM learning in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Dr. Lowes is also Adjunct Professor in the Program in Computers, Communication, Technology, and Education at Teachers College, teaching courses on methodologies for researching technology in education and on online schools and schooling.

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Devayani Tirthali Brown University


Arthur H. Camins Stevens Institute of Technology

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Arthur Camins is the Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE). Before joining CIESE, he served as the Executive Director of the Gheens Institute for Innovation in the Jefferson County Public schools in Louisville KY; Elementary Math and Science Director for the Hudson Public Schools in Massachusetts and Associate Director the New York City Urban Systemic Initiative. He has been the principal investigator of numerous successful National Science Foundation projects including, Formative Assessment in Science Through Technology, Critical MASS, and Science in the Seamless Day.

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Student Learning of STEM Concepts Using a Challenge-based Robotics Curriculum (RTP Strand 4, K-12 Engineering Resources: Best Practices in Curriculum Design)Robotics is a timely, relevant and exciting field that incorporates a very broad spectrum ofengineering, science, and information technology disciplines. Robotics curricula have beenwidely used in both formal classroom instruction and out-of-school contexts and at many gradelevels to engage students in learning of several fundamental physical science concepts, computerprogramming, and the engineering design process (EDP). With increased national attention toand advances in STEM learning research, the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards call upon curriculum developersand teachers to increase the prominence of the engineering design process (EDP) within thecontext of science education.This paper will examine pre- and post-student learning of science, programming, andengineering concepts using a tightly integrated robotics curriculum that challenges student teamsto design, build, program, test, and redesign robots as part of a series of increasinglysophisticated design challenges. Building robots that can maneuver in multiple dimensions, grabobjects and navigate obstacles supports students’ development of selected science andengineering core ideas, practices, and cross-cutting concepts. In addition, students learn andemploy computer programming to control behavior of their robots.Data from over 750 middle school and high school youth from both in-school and out-of-schoolenvironments during the third year of implementation of a national scale-up project wereanalyzed to address the questions: Are student outcomes similar regardless of teachingenvironment (formal vs. informal)? If they differ, what are the differences and what accounts forthem? We will present results of learning assessments for the topics of gears, buoyancy,programming and the engineering design process, as well as surveys results of studentengagement that include enjoyment, interest, and learning. We will examine student factors suchas learning environment, gender, and grade level that affect student learning outcomes.Results indicate that student post-test scores for the science and programming concept areasincreased, but only to just above 50 percent of the total possible scores. Although students feltthey had learned, and teachers agreed, the degree of learning was not reflected in the assessmentscores. Furthermore, most of the educators felt that the curriculum had helped their students learnthe EDP, but student results did not show increases in learning of the EDP steps.Recommendations for the design of future engineering curricula based on project evidence andresults will be presented.

McKay, M. M., & Lowes, S., & Tirthali, D., & Camins, A. H. (2015, June), Student Learning of STEM Concepts Using a Challenge-based Robotics Curriculum Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24756

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