Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy

Use the motivational effects of robotics to excite students about STEM

Starting a Robotics Program

Below are basic questions to consider that will provide some guidance to starting a robotics program.

Robotics provides many rich opportunities to teach Computer Science, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CS-STEM) as well as 21st-century skill sets. As you plan your robotics course, one of the first things that you will need to consider is what “Big Ideas” do I want to teach through robotics. At the Robotics Academy, we’ve worked with many teachers helping them to develop a scaffolded set of curricular activities to help them to develop a multi-year program.  For example, if you are developing a middle school robotics program you may want to foreground grade-level mathematics and introduction to programming in Grade 6, intermediate level programming and STEM Robotics applications in Grade 7, and engineering competencies with programming in Grade 8.  What we have observed is that without planning schools teach the same competencies in grades 6-8 and there are no measurable learning gains. Robotics as a content organizer can be used to teach many things, including:

• Engineering competencies (design, iteration, prototype development, design reviews, project planning…)
• Programming and computational thinking
• Data-logging and scientific methods
• Contextualized mathematics
• 21st century skill sets (teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration, time management, resource allocation, etc.)

One of the first things that a robotics teacher needs to do is to determine what it is that they want to teach (foreground and measure) when they are teaching robotics. The link to the left, foregrounding mathematics, provides an example of Robotics Academy research around using robotics to teach mathematics.

All students come into any course with pre-conceived ideas on how things work.  Effective teachers find ways to build on what students already know.  This was mentioned above, but worth repeating, if you are planning a multi-year robotics experience decide what it is that you want to teach at each level.
One of the issues that a robotics teacher faces is that there are many moving parts in a robotics classroom (literally) and often times they find themselves helping students troubleshoot, managing classroom activities, and setting up for the next class; and before they know it the day is over. It is important to build assessment activities to measure what students are learning.

Selecting hardware can be a difficult choice for teachers.  There is a broad range of options available. The majority of the Robotics Academy development has been around LEGO and VEX robots since they are the dominant solution available in education today.  Start by choosing a platform on the right.