Project Spotlight: Build IT Underwater Robotics Scale Up

Project Spotlight: Build IT Underwater Robotics Scale Up

Monday, March 9, 2015

STELAR had the opportunity to catch up with Mercedes McKay from the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at Stevens Institute of Technology) and Karen Peterson about the Build IT Underwater Robotics Scale Up project (BISU).  BISU incorporates cyberlearning tools into its curricula and teacher professional development to create a cyberlearning community among youth, educators, and STEM researchers.

*         Can you share how your project impacts youth?

WaterBotics is a problem-based underwater robotics curriculum targeted to middle and high school girls and boys through both formal and informal STEM education programs, offering an exciting and engaging context for youth to learn science, engineering, and computer programming concepts and skills as well as an educational strategy to increase learners' interest and persistence in STEM disciplines. It also offers youth an opportunity to practice 21st Century skills such as teamwork, creative problem-solving, and iterative design. As part of our NSF ITEST scale-up grant, WaterBotics has been implemented with thousands of youth in five U.S. geographic regions. Data from approximately 1,500 youth indicated that 53% have been girls, and almost equal numbers of youth have participated through classroom settings as in out-of-school settings.

*         How do you use Cyberlearning to engage and enhance student understanding of STEM and related careers?

The WaterBotics curriculum is designed as a series of four engineering-design missions that gradually increase in difficulty and ultimately lead to a final robot design. The motivational context for each of the missions is a real-world application of underwater robots. Information regarding how real robots are used in specific contexts is provided as part of each mission briefing, including web-based descriptions, photos, videos, news stories, and career information about professionals who are utilizing specific types of underwater robots. Short, web-based videos that elucidate specific science and engineering concepts important for underwater robot design are provided as part of the curriculum and students are encouraged to share photos and videos of completed robots through a virtual showcase application.

*         What do you think is your most important learning in this area based on your project work to-date?

Out-of-school time learning has great potential for both STEM learning and confidence building. As we hypothesized, students from informal sites showed stronger gains in STEM interest and engagement than those from formal sites. However, contrary to our hypothesis, students from informal sites also evidenced stronger content learning than students in formal classes. This may be due to the self-selected nature of out-of-school programs as well as the grade levels at which the program was implemented in both settings. Some features of the curriculum that were initially only included for informal sites were later incorporated for classroom use based on these findings.

However, deeper science and engineering learning requires explicitness. Both formal and informal student post-test scores for the three concept areas assessed were statistically similar and increased, but only to just above 50 percent of the total possible scores. Although a large majority of students found the curriculum highly enjoyable and felt they had learned, and educators agreed, the degree of learning was not reflected in the assessment scores. Furthermore, although educators felt the curriculum had helped their students learn engineering design through hands-on activities, student results did not show increases in learning of the Engineering Design Process. This suggests that more explicit instruction in science and programming content and the engineering design process may be required for deeper learning. 

*         How has the ITEST community supported you in your work?

Learning from the experiences of other ITEST projects, especially those focused on scale-up, has been important. The ability to connect with other ITEST researchers through webinars, conferences, and networking is invaluable!