ENHANCING SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICS (STEM) INSTRUCTION THROUGH ROBOTICS IN NATIVE AMERICAN HIGH POVERTY POPULATIONS
This paper will discuss the impacts of the use of robotics as a tool for teaching higher level thinking skills in the fields of electrical and mechanical engineering, computer programming and electronics with a population of limited English proficiency and high poverty in Western states Indian reservation colleges. Also included will be the research on different types of robots and programming languages and their use in education, business, and industry. Through a grant received by the professor, the American Indian Crow students of the college Computer Science/Pre-Engineering department were provided opportunities to learn to build and program robots which would emphasize a hands-on approach to learning. The college is located on the Crow Indian Reservation which is the largest of the seven Montana Indian Reservations and fifth largest land area reservation in the United States. The reservation encompasses approximately 2.3 million acres. The Crow Tribe of Indians has an enrolled tribal membership of approximately 11,000, of whom 7,900 reside on the Crow Indian Reservation. The poverty level is extremely high and the education level is low with a large portion of the population not having graduated from high school. Eighty-five percent speak Crow as their first language so many Crow children start school behind. The Crow Tribe of Indians chartered college name in January of 1980. The hope was to provide a brighter future; to develop Crow Indian professionals whose life work would build the Crow Indian community; to promote Crow adults to positions that could support their families in a respectable way. The hope was to establish a lasting tradition of advanced training and higher education, for a good path into the future for the Crow People. After funded research, the professor began implementing robotics into the programming classes. Students experienced great success in this new hands-on, learning by doing, environment. Several students were able to attend and present at the 2008 and 2009 (national) Conferences on Information Technology League of Innovations where they shared their experiences and demonstrated their skills. Through this program students learned more about practical applications and future trends of robotics including the NASA space programs. Four Crow students attended a month long Space Exploration Robotic Summer Camp with the professor at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Center in Houston, Texas, where students worked with NASA scientists on robotics. Outcomes from this program included: students at college name were actively engaged in course work with hands-on robots, student attendance improved, and student successful course completion rates increased; students became ambassadors to local schools and presented their robots to the students increasing interest in technology; students helped provide a summer robotics week long camp for graduating high school students. Overall college enrollment and interest increased and students progressed from homes that lacked any advanced technologies like computers with Internet to building and programming robots at the NASA Space Center.
The professor has worked with Native American students on three different Reservations since 1997 implementing and instructing technology. She views technology as the most nonbiased media in history, if made accessible, erasing boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and age.