Build IT: Building Middle and High School Students’ Understanding of Engineering, Science and IT through Underwater Robotics

Build IT: Building Middle and High School Students’ Understanding of Engineering, Science and IT through Underwater Robotics


Designing and building robots to perform a series of increasingly complex tasks in an underwater environment is the vehicle to engage, interest, and cultivate 36 middle and high schools inlearning engineering, science and information technology. Using LEGO components and a hands-on, team-based, iterative design process, teachers and students learn how to build robotsthat must operate underwater in a three dimensional space. In building their robot to perform these tasks (proceed in straight line path across a pool, negotiate a slalom course, ascend/descendin a water column, and grab/deposit a wiffle ball into an underwater goal), they not only practicethe engineering design process, but also learn the underlying science concepts that impact theperformance of their robot, e.g., buoyancy, gear ratios, and mechanics. A one-week summer institute for teachers introduced them to the project goals and equipment, and the performance challenges their robots would face. A second week allowed teachers to pilot test the lessons with middle and high school students. “Teach Talks” and “Tech Talks” provided “just in time” learning resources for participants as they built and refined their robots. During the 2007-08school year, teachers are implementing the lessons as part of their technology, physics, generalscience, or engineering courses in a range of implementation scenarios. This project, an NSFInformation Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant, is aimed atmotivating and preparing students, particularly from underrepresented groups, to pursue IT andengineering degrees and careers. A deliberate effort was made to enlist the participation of different types of teachers—general science, physics, engineering, technology education, andcomputer teachers—from a varied socioeconomic and academic group of schools across NewJersey in order to understand how the project can be implemented in a range of environments. Data from teacher and student surveys, student pre- and post-tests, and teacher follow-up surveys are being gathered and analyzed. The model and effectiveness of the summer institutes isdescribed, as are the varying implementation models, challenges, and successful classroom strategies.

BUILD IT presentation at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings, Pittsburgh, PA, June 2008.

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