Project Profile

Supporting Elementary Students’ Computer Science Skills and Interest through Engagement with Low-cost, Adaptable Robots


Reflecting increasing calls at the national and state-levels for computer science (CS) to be integrated into elementary school classrooms, this design and development project will develop low-cost, adaptable physical computing tools to provide equitable opportunities for elementary students to learn CS skills and concepts. Physical computing tools, such as robots, can help children develop CS understanding; however, most robots currently available to elementary teachers are relatively expensive and offer little flexibility in terms of which concepts they allow students to learn and how learning happens. The research aims to understand the assets that students and teachers bring to the activities, and capture feedback on implementation from the students and teachers to improve the robot design. The project is potentially transformative in its goal to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to create a robot that is more responsive to the range of student abilities found across elementary and middle school classrooms. The project aims to help students develop CS and executive functioning skills such as self-control and planning, which are crucial to school success and successful STEM careers. It also aims to help teachers develop confidence and fluency in integrating CS content into their day-to-day work with students.

This project builds on prior collaborations that yielded a low-cost, working prototype that is adaptable for use in kindergarten settings up to middle school and beyond for a “low-floor and high-ceiling” functionality and extendibility. The research will implement activities featuring the robot in urban and rural elementary classrooms in Virginia school districts to investigate students’ development of CS and executive functioning skills as well as student interest in STEM and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. The project will use design-based research methods to explore how teachers scaffold CS learning activities within their classrooms and how to create educational robots and associated materials for students with and without disabilities at the K-12, 3-5 and 6-8 grade bands. The project aims to work with 18 elementary and middle school teachers, with over 1700 students using the robot and associated activities. Expected outcomes of this project include improved CS understanding and executive functioning skills in children, improved teacher self-efficacy with integrating CS into their classroom, and a set of design principles for educational robots for students with and without disabilities. All project materials, including activities, robot designs, and building instructions will be openly available on the project website and Github. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Project Duration
2024 - 2028
Project Status