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ROBOTICS AS MEANS TO INCREASE STUDENTS' STEM ATTITUDES

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Abstract

This study examined the impact of robotics on the attitudes of primary school students towards science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Two teaching approaches, one with and another without robotics, were designed for a teaching class module in the field of Science Education. Students completed pre-and post-tests on STEM attitudes and future career choices regarding the STEM professions. The results showed that the robotic approach led to a significantly greater impact on STEM attitudes and motivation than with the control group. In addition, results indicated that there is a slight significant change on students" future careers choices after participating in a 10-hours Science" module.
ROBOTICS AS MEANS TO INCREASE STUDENTS’ STEM ATTITUDES
Marievie Panayiotou and Nikleia Eteokleous-Grigoriou
School of Education, Frederick University Cyprus (Cyprus)
Abstract
This study examined the impact of robotics on the attitudes of primary school students towards science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Two teaching approaches, one with and another without
robotics, were designed for a teaching class module in the field of Science Education. Students completed pre-
and post-tests on STEM attitudes and future career choices regarding the STEM professions. The results showed
that the robotic approach led to a significantly greater impact on STEM attitudes and motivation than with the
control group. In addition, results indicated that there is a slight significant change on students‟ future careers
choices after participating in a 10-hours Science‟ module.
Keywords: educational robotics, education, STEM.
1. Introduction
Hitherto, the research has shown that students' attitudes may be fundamental to the understanding of the
taught subjects (Siegel & Ranney 2003). Successful learning occurs when the content delivered is expressed as
interesting information from students (Callison, Bundy & Thomes, 2005). Motivation is the key to achieve a
higher level of academic engagement (Whitehead, 2010). Yet, finding the appropriate tools to foster the
motivation to learn is a challenging endeavor, especially as the complexity of the topics rise. Nowadays, there is
a lack of interest among students in issues of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), thus
leading to the development of innovative tools. Educational robotics, often referred in literature as the new
promising approach to improve STEM education, is perhaps the most efficient way to increase the interest of
pupils in these areas (Robinson, 2005; Rogers & Portsmore 2004). However, so far there are very few research
data to examine the impact of robotics in students‟ attitudes and perceptions about STEM concepts (Whitehead,
2010).
In spite of this, the main purpose of this study was to determine the effects of an educational science
program on levels of attitudes in science, technology, mathematics and engineering for fifth grades‟ students.
This study compares the STEM attitudes and STEM career choices of students who participated in the robotic
teaching approach with those that participate in a teaching approach without robotics. Specifically, the following
research questions were addressed:
1. What is the impact of the robotics teaching approach in promoting student attitudes in science,
engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) for youth ages?
2. Is there a significant difference on students choosing STEM professional career between students
taught with robotics integration method and non-robotics method?
Next section provides an overview of the literature, discussing some of the most relevant works that
exploited the use of robotics to increase students‟ engagement and motivation in STEM-related studies.
2. Related work
Already in the early 1940s and 50s, the United States began working target to consolidate as a world
leader in STEM (Ricks, 2006). Promoting educational and professional excellence in STEM fields has been a
constant aspiration both in Europe and globally. Over the past years, various programs were developed to
increase students‟ STEM achievement and positive attitudes from K-12 to postgraduate education. However,
only some few of them assessed the initial effect that these programs have on student attitudes towards STEM
subject-areas. Thomopoylos (2014) has developed and implemented a program that uses engine kits, Lego
WeDo, as well as many supervisory materials and books, to enhance interest in STEM subjects. The 10 students
aged 8-11 years old who participated agreed that the lesson of physics and information technology was more
interesting when using robots. The same level of satisfaction from robotics programs was confirmed by 700
students enrolled in robotics courses with duration from two to five days, made in informal environment, school
trips, weekends or summer holidays (Ruiz-del-Solar & Avilés, 2004). Other researchers reported that when
students play with robots, even if it is in a competitive setting, their interest towards programming and
engineering grows. As Petre and Price (2004) point out after observing and interviewing students involved in
robotics competitions, robotics can increase students‟ positive attitudes, through its ability to promote highly
engaging and effective hands-on activities. Whitehead (2010) evaluated secondary school students‟ attitudes and
interest who participated in 2-6 weeks program for technology, engineering and mathematics (TEM). The 107
students had worked with Lego mindstorms NXT package, for an analytical robotics program created by the
National Robotic Educational Center (NREC). The results were not statistically significant for all items, but,
overall, the differences were statistically significant in supporting the hypothesis that the use of robotics has
positive impact on the views and interest to the TEM‟ concepts.
Although most research efforts show positive results arising from educational robotics, those could be
due to the fact that a robot is a new tool for pupils and perhaps, in a longer-term intervention, it would not
provide any additional contribution to pupils' attitudes. This is depicted in Nugent et al. (2010) research,
considering a sample of 288 students participating in the robotics program and geospatial activities to evaluated
attitudes and motivations towards STEM concepts. The results showed that the group who participated in the
three hours program presented statistically higher scores in STEM attitudes when compared to the experimental
group involved in a 40 hours program. These results indicate that the use of robots can initially excite students,
but there is a possibility that such benefit will saturate over time. Another one-year research found out that there
was little difference in students‟ attitude towards science after participation in the engineering curriculum that
incorporates LEGO design challenges (Wendell & Rogers, 2013).
Furthermore, the demand for graduates in STEM fields continues to grow at a relatively fast pace.
Conversely, the decreasing number of students engaging in STEM careers is a global phenomenon that has
raised concerns about nationseconomic future (Whitehead, 2010). Today, there are many available programs
aimed at strengthening the students' enthusiasm for STEM concepts in order to increase the number of people
who choose to pursue careers in these fields. Such programs are the First Lego Legue (FLL), Battle Bots and the
contest VEX (Wendell & Rogers, 2013; Whitehead, 2010). Bonvillian (2002) state the importance in attracting
young people to study and pursue careers in STEM fields as there is a need for conservation scientists and
staffing professionals specialized in these areas. Giving students positive role models and interventions with
specific educational programs is a mechanism for strengthening students' career choices (Ricks, 2006). Research
in educational sciences shows that students‟ participation in an informal educational program could increase the
number of students engaging in STEM college majors or careers (Ricks, 2006). Recent studies also indicate that
robotic education can generate a high degree of student interest and engagement in STEM fields (Nugent et al.,
2010; Rogers & Portsmore, 2004). In several occasions, the students involved in robotics activities report
positive experiences after their participation. Nevertheless, this result could be likely due to the fact that most
research efforts are not using a random sample since, usually, the students involved choose by themselves to
attend those courses or participate in robotics competitions.
Bearing these ideas in mind, further research is needed to provide empirical evidences supporting the
effectiveness of educational robotics in STEM attitudes and STEM careers. This is in line with the educational
research literature, which indicates the need for more STEM driven curriculum practices in education that can
enhance students‟ STEM attitudes.
3. Method
To determine the effectiveness of the teaching approaches, a pre-test/post-test quasi-experimental study
group was designed. Two teaching approaches, one using robotics and one without it, were designed for a
teaching class module in the field of Educational Sciences. The two teaching approaches concern the module
“Light Concepts”. The educational objectives of the module are common to both teaching approaches. Both
groups who participated in the 10-hours program completed a pre-test prior to the beginning of the
interventions, and a post-test afterwards.
To assess students‟ attitudes for STEM concepts, the questionnaire Upper Elementary School Student
Attitudes Toward STEM (UESSATS), created from Friday Institute for Educational Innovation of North
Carolina State University, was adopted (Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, 2012). The questionnaire
consists of four validated constructs using elements of Likert scale for measuring pupils' attitudes towards
science, math, engineering and technology. Additionally, the same questionnaire includes questions about the
students' interest to pursue a career in STEM fields.
3.1 Description of the teaching approaches
The proposed activities in both teaching approaches are tailored to overcome the challenges of teaching
science concepts to primary students. For the design of activities, the researchers initially based on the national
curriculum about the “light concepts” module. “Light Concepts” is an educational module usually being taught
in the fifth-grade of elementary education. Its educational goals are as follows:
Understanding light propagation in linear way and to all dimensions;
Understanding light’ interaction with different materials and sort them using the terms
transparent, semi-transparent and opaque;
Understanding the light phenomena, such as reflection, diffusion and absorption.
Students participating in the robotic approach had at their disposal a Lego Mindstorm NXT robot to be
used as an educational tool according to the activities of the program. Activities include light sensor
measurements, recordings, observations, estimating, programing the robot, testing the program and making
conclusions. On the other hand, students participating in the non-robotic approach performed the same
experiments using their eyes to make observations. Activities include observations, predictions, experimentation
and making conclusions.
Both teaching approaches were tested under pilot study. Thirty two students participated in this
procedure that gave valuable feedback to finalize the teaching activities. The purpose of pilot study was to
examine the activities of the two teaching approaches and worksheets as: the students‟ understanding of the
activities, teaching objectives, measuring activities‟ duration and to determine any difficulties.
3.2 Participants
The participants for the study were 96 fifth grades students that were randomly selected from 6 different
Cypriot primary schools. Participants were divided into the experimental group, that followed the robotics
teaching approach, and the control group, that followed the non-robotics teaching approach.
The experimental procedure had a duration of one week for each school. The 96 students who were selected
were divided as follows:
First Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 1 (Robotic Teaching Approach)
Second Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 2 (Robotic Teaching Approach)
Third Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 3 (Robotic Teaching Approach)
Fourth Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 4 (Non - Robotic Teaching Approach)
Fifth Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 5 (Non - Robotic Teaching Approach)
Sixth Elementary school (16 pupils): Group 6 (Non - Robotic Teaching Approach)
For the herein proposed activities, the students involved in Robotic Teaching Approach have attended a 7-hour
NXT programming course prior the procedure. During that course, the students assembled a robot with a built-
up light sensor.
4. Results
This research sought to examine with a quantitative experimental procedure that considers a control
group, the effect of robotics in attitudes and perceptions of students for STEM concepts. In order to identify
whether there were initial differences between the groups, a t-test for independent samples was completed, with
the independent variable being the teaching approach (robotics/non-robotics) and the dependent variables being
student pre STEM attitudes. As shown by the results of the statistical analysis, there were no initial differences
since the significance quotient was p <.05. Additionally, a t-test for independent samples was used, with the
dependent variable being post STEM attitudes and independent variables both teaching approaches, in order to
answer the first research question.
Results showed a statistically significant difference in average of total post STEM attitude, t (94) = 4.67,
p <.001, with students involved in robotics teaching approach have higher averages compared with students who
participated in approach without robotics. The average students‟ attitude of experimental group was 92.71 ±
10.97 compared with the control group that was 83.50 ± 8.16. These results reinforce the positive contribution
of robotics in students' attitudes towards STEM fields. As presented, the students involved in robotics teaching
approach had more positive attitudes in these areas, compared with students who did not use robotics.
To examine whether the 10-hour intervention was likely to affect attitudes to professional students'
selections a t-test were performed, comparing before and after the overall performance for students‟ STEM
Career Interest choices. Results showed a statistical difference t (95) =-3.34, p=.001 (Table 4.20), with the
average score to be increase from 32.17 (± 6.9) to 36.25 (± 5.41). Both teaching approaches related to the
module “Light Concepts” positively influenced students‟ perceptions and attitudes that can greatly affect their
future career options. Although students at this age are still too young to choose a profession, what is important
is that even a 10-hour intervention can positively reinforce their attitudes, which can evolve in future career
choices related to STEM fields.
In addition, to examine the effect of two teaching approaches (robotic and non-robotic) to the career
choices, a t-test for independent samples were performed, with dependent variable the post STEM Career
Interest choices and independent variable the two teaching approaches. This test showed that there was no
statistical difference in students‟ professional choices associated with the teaching approach. Although none of
the two teaching approaches outweighed, it is important that students of both approaches had positive attitudes
towards STEM professions after participating in the presented educational program. However, as it was mention
before, students enrolled in robotics approach had more positive STEM attitudes. Beyond the potential to
influence youth STEM attitudes, educational robotics also represents a unique technology to impact students
career choices. At the age of elementary, early incentives can develop predisposition towards a profession.
Students early involvement with activities related to science affect positively the attitude of people to follow a
profession related with STEM fields. Nevertheless, the final professional decision requires more educational
experiences and activities and, therefore, these results suggest the need for more involvement of elementary
students in similar activities.
5. Conclusion
This study aim was to determine the effects of an educational science intervention based on robotics
regarding students‟ attitudes toward STEM and their interest in STEM career pathways. Results of this study
showed that a 10-hour robotic approach affected positively students' attitudes to STEM subjects and increased
their excitement about robotics. This research provides positive evidence of the impact of robotics in students'
attitudes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As mentioned in the literature, positively
increasing attitudes and motivation of students in these areas is necessary for young people since a growing need
for more engineers and skilled workers in these areas has been reported. The educational approach proposed in
this study can serve as a valuable tool for schools, organizations, researchers and evaluators in STEM education
as it positively contributes to students‟ perceptions and opinions in these areas. Furthermore, results of the
presented study showed that both teaching approaches about the module “Light Concepts” attracted students
into technology-related careers. However, none of the two approaches had greater impact on those choices.
These results point the value of the proposed teaching activities for improving studentsattitudes related STEM
fields. Results also suggest that robotics is a clear vehicle to promote future interest in a STEM career. However,
as with any educational material, the use of robotics cannot be seen as a catalyst for growing positive students‟
attitudes for STEM fields. Future research is needed to determine how the use of robotics can enhance students
attitudes and motivation to pursue a career in STEM related fields.
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