The University of Queensland (AUSTRALIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 4306-4315
ISBN: 978-84-616-2661-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
Technology is changing the way students learn and is demanding change to the role of teachers. Schools are expected to offer rich digital learning experiences to ensure that classrooms are exciting places of learning. Robotics in schools has been widely acknowledged as enhancing student learning outcomes, particularly motivation, engagement and problem solving. The research literature predominantly makes calls for further research to illuminate issues of sustainability of robotics initiatives beyond the novelty factor, gender differences in sustaining interest, and teacher confidence. And further, robotics has not been overly used in early years classrooms, being more often associated with students in the upper primary and junior secondary years. This paper reports on a two-fold project researching student and teacher learning through embedded robotics curricula. With a focus on sustainable living, Year 1 and Year 7 students explored green cities using programmable robots, with classroom teachers working alongside students and robotics tutors.

The focus of this project was on the development of teacher confidence to embed the use robotics in their classrooms so that robotics would become a natural aspect of the learning environment rather than an ‘add on’. Predominantly, robotics are introduced in schools by one particular staff member, often who has some degree of expertise in computer programming and who certainly has confidence to take on such a role. The eventual outcome is frequently robotics challenges undertaken by the most dedicated students who work on their robots in their own time. The ‘drift’ away from robotics can be seen to occur here.

In this project, the use of robotics was incorporated into a theme of sustainable living and embedded into the curriculum to promote students’ understanding and awareness of the environment. Through a series of design experiments within an action research framework, students engaged in units of work designed and implemented collaboratively with researchers and classroom teachers. Robotics activities were incorporated into the units. Hence, the teachers learnt robotics alongside their students.

Data sources included a student pen and paper spatial awareness test, a student environment awareness test, student and teacher interview data, student artefacts, and classroom observation data. As part of the unit, students were required to write about their learning experiences using ipads or computers. This paper reports on preliminary data analysis in relation to classroom observations and interview data. These data showed a high level of engagement in robotics activities by the majority of students in both Grade 7 and Grade 1. The Grade 1 children readily engaged in programming their robots and completing set tasks, as did the Grade 7 students. Student awareness of environmental issues increased. Using robots was seen to contribute to student interest and motivation in each lesson. In all robotics sessions, classrooms were lively and student energy was high. Teachers’ confidence with using robotics and incorporating them into their regular lessons was also high, but more so for the Grade 7 teacher than the Grade 1 teacher. These findings are discussed in relation to implications of robotics as integral to teaching and learning; robotics and Grade 1 students; and teacher professional development in incorporating technology into the classroom.
Robotics, primary school, technology, curriculum.