Generating Transferable Skills in STEM through Educational Robotics

Generating Transferable Skills in STEM through Educational Robotics

Carl A. Nelson (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0182-6.ch003
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Abstract

This chapter aims to present guidelines, suggestions, and ideas for designing educational robotics programs, which help participants generate skills useful in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well as in other career paths. A list of skills areas is presented, categorized either as highly STEM-relevant or more universal, and each skills area is discussed in the context of the content and delivery methods of robotics programs. Examples are provided from several existing curricula to demonstrate how robotics can be leveraged for generating these useful skills. A set of suggestions is then presented for guiding future robotics curriculum development, in formal or informal settings.
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Background

In many ways, most youth robotics programs fit the description of student-centered education (Waterhouse, 2005). Lectures are deemphasized in favor of problem-based approaches, and students can have more choices, may create portfolios, perform self-assessment, and so forth. One important rationale in favor of this type of approach is the link between these student-centered education practices and the development of desirable skills and traits, not just discipline-specific knowledge. These programs can serve as platforms from which to reinforce positive existing traits and skills and to encourage their development in the program participants. In fact, research points toward the idea that free-choice or informal science experiences of this type may have a much stronger effect on science literacy than in-school experiences (Falk & Dierking, 2010). Because of this, influencing career choice can be an important motivator for development of informal education programs (Fairley, Prysock & Archer, 2009; Shurn, Hardnett & Kearse, 2008; Verma & McKinney, 2009). However, this does not imply that such positive skills- and career-related outcomes cannot be achieved with well designed curricula in more formal educational settings.

Various programs and curricula have been developed using robotics as a means to convey STEM-related knowledge and associated skill sets to youth, generally from about age 10 and onward (Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, 2011; VEX Robotics, 2011; GEAR-Tech-21, 2011; Yanco, Kim, Martin & Silka, 2007; Botball, 2011; FIRST, 2011) and some aimed at younger children (Bers, 2010; FIRST, 2011). One major impetus for this type of program is to influence career interest. Tai, Liu, Maltese and Fan (2006) showed that in 8th-graders, interest in or expectation of having a career in a STEM field was a much stronger predictor of actually achieving a STEM career by age 30 than (math) proficiency scores. Although a desire to boost interest (Avanzato, 2009; Hirsch, Carpinelli, Kimmel, Rockland & Burr-Alexander, 2009) and/or increase performance (Zeid et al., 2007) in science and math is often cited as a key motivating factor for using these and other robotics curricula in youth programs, the skills development aspect is not to be undervalued.

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