Soft Robotics to Broaden the STEM Pipeline
This project aims to increase female interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers through the emerging field of soft robotics. Soft robotics diverge from other robotics in that they leverage materials science (understanding how materials stretch and deform), chemistry (polymer synthesis), and biology (bio-inspired design) to provide aids for human needs. This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue STEM careers by exploring the inspiration that soft robotics might afford. The focus is a unit within a high school freshman engineering course. Results of this project will include the development and testing of curriculum that has the potential to broaden participation. The International Technology and Engineering Educators Association STEM Center for Teaching and Learning will disseminate it to 50,000 students annually.
This project will test the hypothesis that the implementation of soft robot design experiences improves learning, motivation, engineering self-efficacy and interest in engineering careers as compared to traditional robot design experiences. This development and study is contextualized in a course required of many 9th grade students called Foundations of Technology, which is the freshman-level technology and engineering education course provided by the Engineering by Design core program. It is taught in over 270 school districts across 23 states to about 100,000 students annually. The study will employ a design research framework to develop the 8-hour unit and study its implementation in 11 classrooms with a total of 660 students in the Carroll County Public Schools. Measures include the Situational Motivation Scale and the Longitudinal Assessment of Engineering Self Efficacy. In Year 3, the project will implement an efficacy study to compare results of the soft robotics unit with the unit implemented traditionally in the Engineering by Design program.