June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
K-12 & Pre-College Engineering
13.1353.1 - 13.1353.15
Using Robotics to Teach Mathematics: Analysis of a Curriculum Designed and Implemented Abstract
We report on a project that investigates the use of engineering as a context in which to learn mathematics through an evaluation of a LEGO-based robotics curriculum. We performed a content analysis of the curriculum in order to identify the types of mathematics topics that students would have an opportunity to learn, and investigated the extent to which those topics were aligned with national mathematics standards. The curriculum had a large percentage of tasks with clear relevance for mathematics and aligned well with the standards at the level of broad, topic areas (e.g., measurement, algebra, etc.). The curriculum was not well aligned at the more specific, topic level (e.g., use of measuring instruments, evaluating expressions, etc.), indicating that level of alignment is an important consideration when designing engineering curricula to teach mathematics. We simultaneously conducted a case study analysis of an implementation of the robotics curriculum in an eighth grade technology classroom to assess whether mathematics ideas were salient as students engaged with the tasks. When prompted by the teacher, especially during whole-class discussion, we observed students bringing in a wide range of formal mathematics ideas. Despite that, because of the multitude and diversity of those mathematics ideas, significant mathematics learning did not occur. These findings suggest that robotics is a promising engineering context in which to engage students in thinking about mathematics, but that further supports are required to effectively enable students’ mastery of the more general mathematical ideas.
Mathematics curricula that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”1 is often cited as a reason for poor K-12 mathematics achievement in the United States, since it most likely contributes to superficial coverage of ideas, students’ views of mathematics as simply a large collection of rote procedures2, and acquisition of inert knowledge that is learned without consideration for its use outside of the classroom3. Engineering design has been proposed as an alternative approach to teaching mathematics (in addition to other disciplines such as science and technology) as it has the potential to serve as an integrator4, providing a context in which students can synthesize and apply mathematics knowledge in authentic problem-solving situations. Authentic problem solving is not tightly bound by traditional disciplinary or conceptual boundaries, such that many different types of knowledge need to be applied flexibly in order to be successful. This experience of engineering a design solution may, in turn, reinforce students’ knowledge of the general mathematics idea. In addition, because engineering design projects are often about satisfying human needs and finding solutions to human problems, they are inherently motivating for students.
Despite these theoretical arguments, the empirical evidence supporting the utilization of engineering design specifically to facilitate learning of mathematics has remained largely anecdotal. Systematic studies of engineering design curricula intended to teach traditional mathematics disciplinary knowledge are not common, although some do exist. For instance, Burghardt and Krowles described a project in which fifth grade students learned geometry concepts by designing a chair.5 They incorporated short, focused activities called Knowledge and
Silk, E., & Schunn, C. (2008, June), Using Robotics To Teach Mathematics: Analysis Of A Curriculum Designed And Implemented Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3764
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