Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

WE, ROBOT: Using Robotics to Promote Collaborative and Mathematics Learning in a Middle School Classroom

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

WE, ROBOT: Using Robotics to Promote Collaborative and Mathematics Learning in a Middle School Classroom

Article excerpt

Many of the recent calls for education reform from all quarters have insisted that today's students develop 21st century skills. Included in different versions of inventories of these 21st century skills are typically critical thinking and problem solving. Frequently, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas are cited as vehicles for the development of these skills in students. The Next Generation Science Standards, for example, focuses on an integrated approach to teaching these STEM areas, as well as asserting that Engineering principles such as the development of powerful models, is essential to learning of science.

These types of educational initiatives are ideal for middle grade students. As Piaget and others have described (Harel & Papert, 1990; Kellough & Kellough, 2008; Piaget & Inhelder, 1972), these students are able to think concretely and creatively. They naturally find these STEM areas, along with inquiry and discovery teaching methods, are completely relevant and challenging. All too often, though, STEM education is invoked as a talisman, a silver bullet that will solve all of the real and perceived problems in our educational system.

Current educational research and articles in the popular press make much of the need to incorporate a technology-rich learning environment into the teaching of the STEM areas. In this study we explore the use of a robotics program in a sixth grade math/science classroom intended to deepen the students' understanding of mathematics as well as their ability to solve problems and work together productively. This article describes an innovative collaboration between a middle school and a university technology program, which successfully integrated robotics as a pedagogical tool to improve the STEM learning for sixth graders as well as undergraduates. The following research questions are addressed in this study: (1) How can the use of robotics in a 6th grade mathematics/science classroom positively influence the learning of key math concepts? (2) How can the use of robotics in a sixth-grade math/science classroom reshape the learning environment toward collaboration?


Much research has focused on the integration of STEM areas into the classroom, especially in technology rich environments (Capraro & Jones, 2013). Some of this work has focused on specific technological tools (Blauvelt, 2006; Cavallo, Papert, & Stager, 2004; Matson, DeLoach, & Pauly, 2004). Other studies have explored pedagogical methods such as scaffolding (Barbuto, Swaminathan, TrawickSmith, & Wright, 2003; Rasmussen & Marrongelle, 2006); visual modeling (Deratzou, 2006; Gow, 2007) storytelling (Kelleher & Pausch, 2006; Simkins, 2011); game design (Preston & Morrison, 2009); and project-based learning (Krajcik et al., 1998; Krajcik, Marx, Blumenfeld, Soloway, & Fishman, 2000; Sylvester & McGrath, 2007). This study has its roots in the learning theory of constructionism.


In response to Piaget's idea of constructivism, Seymour Papert developed the learning theory he called constructionism. Constructionism is both a theory of learning and a strategy for education. It builds on the "constructivist" theories of Jean Piaget, asserting that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. "Children don't get ideas; they make ideas" (Kafai & Resnick, 1996, p. 1.).

Seymour Papert described Constructionism in terms that have been referred to as two layers of making, making understanding and making objects:

Constructionism-the N word as opposed to the V word-shares constructivism's connotation of learning as "building knowledge structures" irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe (Papert I. …

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