Learning from Programming Robots: Gifted Third Graders Explorations in Mathematics Through Problem Solving

Learning from Programming Robots: Gifted Third Graders Explorations in Mathematics Through Problem Solving

H. Bahadir Yanik (Anadolu University, Turkey), Terri L. Kurz (Arizona State University, USA) and Yasin Memis (Anadolu University, Turkey)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3200-2.ch012


Oftentimes, elementary students are not provided with rich, investigative lessons that support computation thinking (CT) and critical analysis through the use of tools. The purpose of this study was to explore how programming educational robotics (ERs) support third grade gifted students' CT skills in the context of Taxicab geometry focusing on data processing abilities and time estimation skills. Using qualitative case study methodology, data were gathered though classroom interviews, observations and document analyses. Results indicated that ERs provided students with opportunities for both learning programming in early grades and applying mathematical knowledge and skills through a meaningful task that supported content commonly emphasized in mathematics. Specifically, there was growth in student understanding in terms of abstraction, decomposition, algorithmic thinking, evaluation, and generalization. The findings also suggested that working with ERs supported students' estimation and data processing skills. Implications are provided for the integration of ERs as a tool for primary gifted students' learning of mathematics in technology-mediated environments emphasizing CT.
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This chapter presents and discusses an activity to promote the development of primary students’ computational skills by integrating robotics into the mathematics classroom. Educational robots (ERs) movements were programed by students to assist in learning about Taxicab geometry. Specifically, there was a focus on using ERs to support thinking and learning in relation to geometric thought and practices. The use of ERs has continued to grow in recent years because ERs have the potential to contextualize learning in a meaningful way, support collaboration and encourage problem solving (Denis & Hubert, 2001). However, ERs still are not well integrated into public school settings (Eguchi, 2014a; Papanikolaou, Frangou, & Alimisis, 2009). ERs have been primarily used at the middle and high school levels (Seiter & Foreman, 2013). So, extending their use to elementary grades is important in order to support student development by encouraging learning through the use of these tools early on in students’ educational careers. ERs provide benefits to students including opportunities to design, construct, validate, and test engineering and mathematical ideas and conjectures. Eguchi (2014a) describes ERs as supportive of meaningful learning by providing students with opportunities to experience learning through designing, constructing, programing and documenting robotic movement. Several studies (Bakke, 2013; Bers, 2008; Gura & King, 2007) advocate the use of ERs in teaching and learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) content. As well, ERs can be helpful as students explore art and storytelling (Rusk, Resnick, Berg, & Pezalla-Granlund, 2008).

Computational thinking (CT) can be improved with the implementation of ERs in the classroom (Barr & Stephenson, 2011; Catlin & Woollard, 2014; Repenning, Webb, & Iosnnidou, 2010). CT “involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science” (Wing, 2006, p. 33). The processing of information becomes more systematic and efficient when engaging in CT; reasoning and problem-solving can improve (Lu & Fletcher, 2009). In more traditional settings, students are not often actively engaged. They sit quietly and listen to the lecture without the opportunity to problem-solve and critically analyze situations. CT attempts to address this lack of interaction by encouraging learning that requires thinking, analyzing and adapting.

ERs can be used at all grade levels (elementary and secondary) as a tutor, as a virtual peer or as a tool (Mubin, Stevens, Shahid, Al Mahmud, & Dong, 2013). For example, in language education ERs can be used as a tutor to help students learn and remember vocabulary (Saerbeck, Schut, Bartneck, & Janse, 2010). In science education, students can collaborate with ERs (peer role) to study lever balances (Hashimoto, Verner, & Kobayashi, 2013). And in educational technology, students can use ERs as a tool to learn about programming (Hirst, Johnson, Petre, Price, & Richards, 2003). According to Datteri, Zecca Laudisa, and Catiglioni (2013) ERs encourage students to think about resources and programming commands, predict outcomes and plan sequences. Students have the opportunity to participate as scientists in that they create objectives (or hypotheses), observe results, adjust robotic moments and modify plans and procedures to better meet the demands of the tasks at hand.

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