Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy

Use the motivational effects of robotics to excite students about STEM

Robots in Motion

The Robots In Motion (RIM) research project stems from The Robot Algebra Project. The Robot Algebra project is a collaborative project the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) and Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy (CMU) to develop instructional materials designed to significantly improve robotic education’s ability to use robotic project-based learning activities to increase students’ mathematical competency. The goals of this project are to:

• Test and iteratively improve project-based instructional units which, when implemented effectively in educational settings, significantly increase students’ algebraic reasoning abilities

• Design the units & support materials in ways that are educative to both the educator and the student

• Evaluate the extent to which the unit & support materials have met goals one and two

• Increase the field’s understanding of how policy and organizational features shape instruction and learning outcomes.

Robotics education has the ability to excite and engage students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Robots are intrinsically motivating to students and introduce a rich range of STEM concepts. Mathematics is a fundamental component of STEM careers and that is our focus. Our team has a multiyear collaboration studying robotics education and has observed how a single 30-minute robotics activity designed for middle-schoolers can in rapid-fire touch upon measurement, geometry, algebra, and statistics concepts. In such an activity, there is no time to focus instruction on a single mathematical concept, and we were not surprised that students made no mathematical progress over a full semester of engagement with such activities even though the instructor attempted to focus student attention on the mathematics. Our approach is to focus on one foundational mathematical construct, proportional reasoning, for an entire robotics unit, and indeed build it up over multiple robotics units. Proportional reasoning is a foundational mathematics concept that relates to a wide range of situations in everyday life and in the workplace, such as those that involve unit rates, mixtures, or scaling. Proportional reasoning is also central in understanding how a robot’s movements can be controlled, as the relationships between the physical construction of the robot, the values used to program the robot, and how the robot actually moves are often proportional in nature. Moreover, students need to understand rates, ratios, and proportions to develop algebraic ways of thinking.
During the summer of 2012, a set of teacher support materials were developed for teachers using the curriculum. The development team believes that teachers using the materials should participate in certified professional development programs to learn how to use the teacher support materials. The Robotics Academy includes training on RIM in their LEGO NXT training programs. During the fall of 2012, we will test the materials with 10 regional middle schools. This testing will be used to inform the next round of curriculum improvements.

This project developed three instructional units designed to foreground measurement, direct proportionality, and indirect proportionality through robotics activities.

• Unit 1 B-U-G – In this unit, students learn about the iKnowMATION Corporation, a company that makes robots and needs to develop a process to ensure that their robots drive straight, turn accurately, and travels the correct speed. Students are required to develop testing methodologies that ensure that a new robot travels the correct distance, turns the correct angle, and travels the correct speed. In this activity, measurement is foregrounded.

• Unit 2 Asteroid 2012 JN4 – In this unit, students are tasked to program a robot on an asteroid that needs to explore specific areas of the asteroid. The robot has a limited power supply and therefore students need to program the robot accurately on their first attempt. The lessons focus on direct proportional relationships involving distance, turning, and speed. While solving the challenge students will explore the difference between using a unit rate or scaling strategy to solve the challenge.

• Unit 3 Bots-in-Sync – In this unit, students are asked to program several robots with different physical characteristics, different size wheels and different robot sizes, to dance in synchrony. Students will use lessons they learned while solving the B-U-G and Asteroid units to solve this challenge. Students will quickly find that they need to solve both direct and indirect proportional relationships to make the robots dance synchronously.