Collaborative Research: The Robot Algebra Project
In Southwestern PA, 50 educators develop learner and informal educator lego robotics materials that enable pre-teens to develop mathematical and computational reasoning skills.
The Robot Algebra Project creates three scalable, middle school level units for use in informal settings. The units are designed around fundamental robot movement concepts but emphasize proportional reasoning - a big idea in mathematics. There are over 12,000 FIRST Lego League teams across the U.S. that purport to use robots as a motivator to engage students in STEM. However, most of the time the students use guess and check procedures thwarting the opportunity to learn STEM content. The units being developed build upon model eliciting activities, project-based learning and mathematics education to specifically improve student understanding of a few key mathematics concepts. The programming of robots is scaffolded so that students concentrate on the mathematics. Rather than only doing hands-on activities, the students also produce toolkits for other students to engage in similar experiments. Paper- based word problems are developed to bridge the mathematics learned in the context of robotics to generalized mathematical problem-solving strategies. Professional development is provided both face-to-face and through webinars to early adopters who are also trained to provide professional development to others. Materials to supplement the professional development are produced to support teachers and informal educators understanding of the rationale, the agenda, the mathematics and the perspectives that underlie the student materials as well as to also support them in anticipating student responses to the tasks. The materials can be updated online. Pre and post tests against a control group in standard robotics programs are used to provide formative and summative evaluation. Ten students are interviewed each year about how the experiences affect their career choice. The scalability of the use of the units is measured through observation of and interviews with teachers. In the third year the units will be used in beta sites. The fundamental goal of the current proposal is to improve middle school level students' lgebraic reasoning ability, specifically their understanding of proportionality. A secondary but critically related goal is to improve informal educators? pedagogical content knowledge with respect to algebraic reasoning ability.