Teaching with robotics: creating and implementing integrated units in middle school subjects

Debra Bernstein, Karen Mutch-Jones, Michael Cassidy & Emily Hamner (2020) Teaching with robotics: creating and implementing integrated units in middle school subjects, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2020.1816864

Robotics activities can engage students in critical and computational thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and collaboration (Sullivan, 2008, 2011), as well as engineering and computer science.  However, access to robotic technology is often limited to students in a subset of STEM courses (Benitti, 2012).  Therefore, using robotics in non-technical classes can engage a wider range of students and create access to technology innovation experiences for students who are unlikely to select them (Cross, 2017; Hamner, Zito et al., 2016). 

Integrating robotics design activities into disciplinary classrooms provides students with a new way to encounter, apply, and express their disciplinary knowledge (Shaw et al., 2020).  However, teachers are less likely to use a new technology without evidence that it can support their teaching and student learning (Khanlari, 2016). Through two descriptive case studies, our research offers a proof of concept and presents teacher approaches for integrating robotics construction activities into disciplinary courses.  Cases focus on teachers’ motivation and intentions for integration, plans for enactment, and instructional moves to maintain disciplinary focus during robotics design, building, and programming activities.  Results suggest that disciplinary goals should drive integrated unit design, and that multiple implementations may be required for teachers to hone their lessons in order to fulfill their expectations for classroom engagement and student learning.  Finally, the complex nature of this work is likely to require initial professional development or other types of teaching support.


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