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Transforming a Middle and High School Robotics Curriculum

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

K-12 Robotics

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1267.1 - 23.1267.21



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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, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University, 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,including ITEST Strategies and Scale-Up grants, as well as GK-12, MSP, and BPC projects. Dr. Lowes has co-authored papers and presentations on STEM learning in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics, including, most recently, “Robots Underwater! Learning Science, Engineering and 21st Century Skills: The Evolution of Curricula, Professional Development and Research in Formal and Informal Contexts,” in B. Barker, G. Nugent, N. Grandgenett, and V.I., Adamchuk, eds., Robotics in K-12 Education (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2012).

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 Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College, Columbia University


Elisabeth W McGrath Stevens Institute of Technology (SES)

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Beth McGrath is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology.

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Jason Sayres Stevens Institute of Technology

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Jason Sayres is responsible for teacher training and developing Internet-based curriculum materials. He has a B.E. in Engineering Physics from Stevens Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Applied Physics from Columbia University.

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Karen A DUPE Peterson EdLab Group

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Karen A. Peterson, M.Ed. is the Chief Executive Officer for the EdLab Group. Currently, she is the Principal Investigator for the National Girls Collaborative Project, SciGirls – A New National TV Series, the Computer Science Collaboration Project, Bio-ITEST: New Frontiers in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and Build IT Underwater Robotics Scale-Up for STEM Learning and Workforce Development (BISU) Project, all of which are funded by the National Science Foundation. These projects all address gender, racial and socioeconomic underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Peterson serves on local, regional and national boards which develop and administer programs designed to increase underrepresented students’ interests in STEM. Peterson has published in The Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering and has co-authored evaluation reports and promising practices reports in informal information technology education for girls for the National Center for Women & Information Technology and the Girl Scouts of the USA. Peterson has also managed U.S. Department of Education grants designed to provide professional development opportunities to Puget Sound area teachers.

For over 20 years, Peterson has been active in education as a classroom teacher, university instructor, pre-service and in-service teacher educator, program administrator, and researcher. Serving as Western Washington University’s first "Internet Librarian," she assisted teacher education faculty and students in the integration of technology into K-12 classroom teaching. She currently serves on the board of TrueChild, a research and action center devoted to challenging and transforming gender stereotypes and their impact on young people so they achieve their full potential. A graduate of the University of Washington, Bothell campus, her Master’s thesis focused on gendered attitudes towards computer use in education.

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Transforming a Middle and High School Robotics Curriculum from Formal Classrooms to an Informal Learning Environment: Strategies for Increasing Impact in EachThe similarities and differences between classroom-based STEM experiences and informalprograms extend beyond time- and place-based concerns. Issues such as content preparation offormal and informal educators and differing emphases on learning vs. motivation are factorsimpacting redesign of the curriculum, professional development, and educator resources.This paper will examine a robotics curriculum that is impacting educators and youth in bothformal K-12 classrooms as well as in a variety of informal learning environments. Formaleducators need to ensure that classroom time advances students’ STEM learning in valid andmeasurable ways. Informal STEM educators seek student learning impacts; however,engagement, motivation, and enjoyment are high priorities. Formal educators are constrained byclassroom time available, state standards, and the pressures of high-stakes testing, while informaleducators have greater flexibility in these areas. While the content expertise and preparation ofinformal STEM educators varies widely, including utilizing motivated volunteers with highdegrees of STEM expertise to generalists without a STEM background, it is the case that apercentage of informal educators are, in fact, formal classroom teachers in their “day job.” Thediffering goals, contexts, needs, and expertise of formal and informal educators and the programsthey implement are examined in this paper through the lens of a scale-up grant that is working toimplement and adapt a robotics curriculum in both formal and informal learning contexts.Adaptations to the curriculum and the professional development model which, in a prior researcheffort emphasized developing teacher expertise to effectively deliver the curriculum, wererevisited to adapt to the needs, constraints, and priorities of informal educators. The design ofthe curriculum; the professional development objectives and model; the type, frequency, andformat of educator and youth assessments; and the availability and use of supplemental resourcesand online supports and community building are areas we have addressed in adapting therobotics program for effective implementation in informal programs. Through this process, theformal curriculum was enhanced with the addition of engaging strategies and relevant content toprovide additional support to classroom topics. This paper will present results of surveys andlearning assessments of both educators and youth who have used the robotics curriculum informal and informal settings.

McKay, M. M., & Lowes, S., & Tirthali, D., & McGrath, E. W., & Sayres, J., & DUPE Peterson, K. A. (2013, June), Transforming a Middle and High School Robotics Curriculum Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22652

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