Steamsational Writing: An Investigation Into Using Robots to Inspire Children's Narrative Skills

Steamsational Writing: An Investigation Into Using Robots to Inspire Children's Narrative Skills

Marybeth Green (Texas A&M University, Kingsville, USA) and C. Lisa McNair (Texas A&M University, Kingsville, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch008

Abstract

Providing young children with rich environments for writing has been a continuing quest for teachers in the early grades. This chapter investigates the use of Bee-bot robots as a means of creating a stimulating environment that engages second graders in the writing process and learning story grammar elements. Researchers met with the students weekly for an hour over six weeks. In the first week, students wrote an initial story and learned the basics of programming a Bee-bot robot. In subsequent weeks, students listened to a story set in the context of the Bee-bot mat, reviewed vocabulary words, planned a path for their robot, wrote a short story, and executed their robot program. There was a significant difference overall between the baseline story and the final story, and between the initial rating of each of the story grammar elements and the final rating of the elements, with the exception of Character.
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Introduction

The term STEM, an acronym for Science Technology, Engineering and Math, has become a part of the lexicon now. It reflects the continuing efforts on the part of legislators, educators and policy makers to “increase advanced training and careers in STEM fields, to expand the STEM-capable workforce and to increase scientific literacy among the general public” (National Research Council, 2011, p 4.). While some trace the intense focus on STEM to the Sputnik era, many attribute the increased focus in the early 2000s on poor performances by American students on international exams such as PISA and the declining enrollments in STEM related fields in higher education. This spurred efforts to increase student interest in STEM at all levels of education and to increase teacher proficiency and capacity to deliver STEM content. It was argued that without this intense effort that American productivity and innovation in the future would wane.

Regrettably, the intense focus on the STEM fields led to a decline in the Arts. STEM was perceived as “objective, logical, analytical, reproducible, and useful” while the arts were considered “subjective, intuitive, sensual, unique and frivolous” (Sousa & Pilecki, 2018). Throughout the early 2000s, many Arts programs were reduced or eliminated as schools faced difficult budget decisions and time allocations. Aróstegui (2016) argues that STEM content became privileged as it was associated with economic prosperity leading to the detriment of other content areas.

In time, however, educators began to see the benefits from integrating the Arts into the STEM content areas. In 2011, the acronym STEAM first appeared in Education Week in an article making the case for adding the arts to the STEM content areas (Robelen, 2011). It was argued that progress in STEM did not come from STEM alone, but from the fusing of STEM and creativity (Land, 2013). Controlled studies of large groups of STEM professionals found correlations between arts, musical, literary, or crafts activities and STEM success as indicated by Nobel prizes, patents or companies founded (Root-Bernstein, 2015). It has also been asserted that the STEM content areas and the arts shared many common thought processes including inspiring curiosity, making accurate observations, viewing an object in a different form, constructing meaning and expressing oneself accurately, thinking spatially, and perceiving kinesthetically. Integrating the arts into the STEM content areas enables multisensory hands-on lessons and makes learning more personal for students (Maslyk, 2016). Finally, STEAM programs promote interdisciplinary learning experiences rather than the traditional silo instructional designs where learners study content in isolation (Shin, 2017).

Educational robotics has a natural place within the STEAM curriculum. Many see educational robotics as a tool for teaching processes in building, programming and manipulating robots (Zawieska & Duffy, 2015). However, their interdisciplinary nature enables them to nimbly adapt to facilitating learning about content throughout the curriculum (Eguchi, 2012, Eteokleous-Grigoriou, & Psomas, 2013). While robots have frequently been used to teach Science concepts, many researchers and educators are exploring their place in the Arts curriculum. Working with robotics involves innovative problem solving and creative thinking, processes which are closely aligned with the arts (Sousa & Pilecki, 2018, Zawieska & Duffy, 2015). Students have taught robots to dance (Sullivan & Bers, 2017), to create music (Martinez, Gomez, & Benotti, 2015), and to draw (Nagel, 2018, Sullivan, Strawhacker, & Bers, 2017). The main focus for these studies, however, was on using the arts as a context for developing either coding or computer science skills as measured by a variety of assessments. A common theme throughout these studies was the observation that students found using the robots a fun, engaging experience. As Bers, Flannery, Kazakoff, and Sullivan (2014) assert, “robotics can provide a fun and playful way for teachers to integrate academic content with the creation of meaningful projects” (p. 145).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Coding: Coding is the process of writing a set of instructions or commands that when executed will enable a computer program to perform. In early childhood, there are a variety of coding languages that are available ranging from simple forward, backward commands to more complex languages such as Blockly enable loops and conditional statements.

Literacy: The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. Over time, literacy has been applied to a wide range of activities and appears as computer literacy, math literacy, or dietary literacy; in such contexts, it refers to basic knowledge of rather than to anything specific to reading and writing.

Computational Thinking: Computational thinking is a problem-solving heuristic that is commonly used in coding, but has applications across the curriculum. Four processes are generally included in computational thinking including decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and creating an algorithm.

Story structure.: The ways that stories or narratives are put together compose their structure. This grammar includes the introduction of the characters and setting, a problem or set of obstacles that the main character must confront, a series of attempts to resolve the problem, and a resolution.

Story Grammar: The various integral components or elements of a story and the relationships among these parts. Typically, they include the character, setting, problem/conflict, plot, and resolution. Story grammar elements support the essential text structure for most narratives.

Setting: Setting is the time and place of a literary work. In establishing setting, the writer may allude to details within the setting. A well-defined setting can create mood within a narrative work.

Plot: Plot is the sequence of events in a narrative work.

Bee-bot robots: Bee-bot robots are a type of robot intended for early childhood. They are shaped like a bee and can be programmed to run on the floor on commercially available mats or independent of the mats.

Resolution: Resolution, also known as denouement, is the point in the narrative where the problem/conflict has been resolved. It is often the conclusion of the narrative.

Character: A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing, either imaginary or real, Writers will include the character’s traits and features that suggest the nature of the character. Writers use characters to act, speak dialogue, and carry out the plot.

Problem/Conflict: A situation which causes uncertainty or difficulties for the characters in the narrative. It can be an internal problem/conflict within a character or one found in the environment that the character must confront.

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