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Robotics in the Core Science Classroom: Benefits and Challenges for Curriculum Development and Implementation


The Science Learning Integrating Design, Engineering and Robotics (SLIDER) project at the Georgia Institute of Technology is in the 5th year of developing and implementing an inquiry and project-based learning curriculum that is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and designed to teach middle school physical science disciplinary content and practices using LEGO Mindstorms NXT as the instructional manipulative. Using Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR) methods, the team has documented the curriculum design decisions that resulted from iterative cycles of A) design and creation of materials, B) teacher professional learning sessions, C) enactment by teachers in 8th grade classrooms, D) observation and data collection, and E) problem redefinition and curriculum redesign. These activities have taken place in a diverse set of public schools, ranging from a low-income but fairly stable rural school, to a suburban school with a rapidly changing demographic population and high student turnover, to a stable and high performing affluent school.

This paper will focus on the benefits and challenges of using robotics, in this case LEGO Mindstorms NXT kits, as a manipulative to teach science content within the core science classroom, particularly within less-than-optimal, but very common, types of school settings. It will cover the issues of materials management and constraints, resource and time requirements in different settings, the effects of variability in student prior knowledge, and the necessary scaffolding of robotic-based activities to ensure that students focus adequately on science content. Data sources include design reflections and documentation, classroom observations, project communications, teacher surveys and interviews, and teacher reports of curriculum enactment.