1. Karen Mutch-Jones
  2. Senior Researcher
  4. TERC
  1. Debra Bernstein
  2. Senior Researcher
  4. TERC
  1. Michael Cassidy
  2. Research and Evaluation Associate
  4. TERC

Creative Robotics: An inclusive program for fostering diverse STEM talent in ...

NSF Awards: 1321227

2017 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

Integrating robotics into core curricula exposes more students to innovative computer science experiences and can promote deeper understanding and engagement with content (Gura, 2011; Gura & King, 2007). 

To increase access to engineering design and programming, Creative Robotics project teachers developed and integrated robotics units into their sixth through eighth grade English, social studies, science, health, and art courses. In some classrooms, robotics supported learning by helping students translate abstract disciplinary concepts into concrete exemplars and to explore new subject matter within the discipline. Robotics integration enabled some teachers to deepen their thinking about topics and reconsider their typical pedagogical approach to teaching them.

In our video, we will provide examples (including student artifacts and classroom clips) of robotics projects woven into topics studied in English (Romeo and Juliet/poetry), Art (assemblage sculpture), and Health (biomechanics).  We will briefly share research and evaluation findings, highlighting teacher implementation variations, barriers, and successes, as well as the ways in which students engaged in this STEM experience.

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Original Discussion from the 2017 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 14, 2017 | 11:13 p.m.

    Thank you for visiting!  To start off the discussion, we would love to hear from teachers and others:

    What disciplinary topics or subject areas might be ideal for integrating robotics?  

    What might the benefits be?  

    What supports would be needed?

  • Icon for: Neil Plotnick

    Neil Plotnick

    May 15, 2017 | 06:53 p.m.

    I am pleased to see that teachers in various content areas are being challenged to include robotics and coding in their classroom. What types of challenges do these teachers face when learning how to use technology in unconventional ways? How do you support these teachers once they are in their schools? I would like to see if they are sharing ideas and curriculum they have created for others to model. What type of costs are incurred to bring this to a typical classroom?

  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 17, 2017 | 12:04 p.m.

    Thanks, Neil, for your message.  As our colleague Jenn Cross noted below, much of the teacher support comes in the form of repeated professional development opportunities.  Many of the teachers in the program have participated for multiple years, and the professional development has changed as their needs have changed. For example, early PD focused on the basics of building and programming robots.  Later PD workshops introduced more complex technical topics like working with sensors.

    You asked whether teachers have been sharing ideas and curriculum for others to model.  I agree that's an important component.  It seems to me (as one of the project's evaluators) that having those models really helps teachers shape robotics integration into a deep and sustainable activity.  This happened a lot in one of the partner school districts, where a 'Robot Theater' approach was developed and adapted for English/Language arts, social studies, and music classes.  Our project colleague Sue Mellon described some of these projects in last year's showcase (http://stemforall2016.videohall.com/presentatio...).  

    Regarding your question about costs... there are several possible 'costs' to doing this type of integration (not just for this project, but for any project integrating computing into non-technical disciplines).  There is a monetary cost, of course, for materials.  But there is also a cost of time - will introducing technology displace time otherwise spent on the disciplinary subject?  What we've seen in this project is that it doesn't have to.  In the Romeo and Juliet curriculum example, students are engaging in legitimate disciplinary practices - such as close reading of text and interpreting symbolism - while making their robots.  This was part of the work the teachers did while creating their curriculum activities - they provided time and structure (e.g., design sheets, grading rubrics) to ensure students engaged with the discipline while they were designing and building their robots.  


  • Icon for: Mariel DeLuca

    Mariel DeLuca

    Undergraduate Student
    May 16, 2017 | 08:30 a.m.

    The “create lab” seems like a unique program and great opportunity for teachers to expand their teaching techniques with the use of robotics. One question I have is, is the training program at Carnegie Mellon University a one-time program or is it a course that the teachers would take over an extended period of time? It intrigues me to see examples of integrating robotics into many core curricular areas rather than just the science or math subject areas.

  • Icon for: Jennifer Cross

    Jennifer Cross

    May 16, 2017 | 12:02 p.m.

    Hi Mariel,


    Thanks for checking out Arts & Bots and for your question!


    The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University (http://www.cmucreatelab.org/) is a research lab within the Robotics Institute at CMU. Our research projects focus on the application of technologies -- such as robotics -- to the needs of and challenges faced by communities and educational environments.


    Different projects from the CREATE Lab have different structures for teacher participation and engagement. The Arts & Bots program in this video provided training to participating teachers multiple times over the course of four years. Other CREATE Lab projects provide a one-off training session to teachers. Some of our projects work with entire communities, instead of schools, and engage with those communities in a wide variety of ways.


    Please let me know if you have other questions,



    Postdoctoral Fellow

    CREATE Lab, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Icon for: Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    May 17, 2017 | 02:22 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing some projects that have bridged technology and other disciplines.  It is exciting to see students making connections with what they are doing in language arts or health with the bots or circuits.


    I'm interested in how teachers find out about your project and barriers you've had to overcome to help teachers feel confident in using your resources.  I located your frame for innovation -  that allows a slow space for children to find small, authentic discoveries and reflect on themselves in relation to the materials they explore.

    What strategies do you use to help teachers:

    • facilitate focusing on the language-logic systems of technology to aide students in thinking of technology, art and the content of that class
    • slow down to the processes of children’s thinking - notice, wonder and persist
    • instill creative inquiry, yet get in the curriculum necessary


  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 18, 2017 | 12:25 p.m.

    Thanks, Nicole, for your questions.  To build on what Karen said (below), I think the craft materials are important for encouraging creativity because they're very open-ended.  Students building robots out of cardboard or recycled materials have to solve a number of problems while building, including (sometimes) how to get the robot to stand up! Students were challenged to think creatively about the technology design and about how to express their ideas about social studies/art/language arts in a non-traditional medium.

  • Icon for: Karen Mutch-Jones

    Karen Mutch-Jones

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Researcher
    May 17, 2017 | 07:06 p.m.

    Thanks for raising some interesting questions about the project, Nicole.  As one of the evaluators who focused on teacher implementation and robotics integration, I can share thoughts about some of them.


    The project was designed to support teachers over time, since staff knew that getting comfortable with building and programming robots and figuring out the best ways to integrate a robot project would grow over time.  Professional development that allowed teachers to design their own robots and then build and program them was critical.  They were given design packets that scaffolded their own engineering design process and programming, but could then be used (and revised) for their students.  This planning, which enabled teachers to slow down and work through challenges--and persist, was an important experience.  As a result, many teachers expected students to struggle at points, and so they made space for them to work through problems and enlist the help of others.  In some schools, there were teachers who had some experience with robotics or programming, and they became important supports for those who were new.


    Using craft materials encouraged creativity--the possibilities of what they (and their students) could design and build were greater...and so were the engineering challenges as they figured out how to attach motors, lights, and sensors, and how to fasten pieces together. 


    Teachers had an opportunity to discuss integration of robotics into specific topics so they could get feedback from their fellow teachers and from staff.  Even so, many teachers planned an initial project that was narrow in scope. For instance, they might simply have students show something they learned through their robots (e.g., create a robot that illustrated a key advancement during the industrial revolution).  However, as they became more comfortable, teachers were better able to plan a robotics project that enabled students to deepen their understanding or learn new things by building their robots (e.g, understand how antagonistic muscle pairs work).  

    I hope that provides a little more detail about the some aspects of Creative Robotics.  


  • Icon for: Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    Nicole Reitz-Larsen

    May 18, 2017 | 12:50 a.m.

    I agree that supporting teachers over time is important and having teachers network with others around projects is very valuable.

  • Icon for: Lien Diaz

    Lien Diaz

    May 19, 2017 | 03:57 p.m.

    "Teachers reported that robotics integration enhanced their disciplinary instruction and added depth and clarity to areas of study." Wow, what a statement! This is great. Can you share more about the schools/teachers you are working with? Does participation help increase interest in STEM and CS? Is there data you can share on this? 

  • Icon for: Karen Mutch-Jones

    Karen Mutch-Jones

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Researcher
    May 21, 2017 | 07:58 p.m.

    Hi Lien,

    For this project, we were working with schools in Allegheny Valley School district (just outside Pittsburgh) and schools in Mingo County, WV.  AVSD is a suburban district, and the area was once home to many manufacturing jobs, which are no longer as plentiful. Mingo County is rural - schools are dispersed across a large geographic area where jobs in mining are no longer plentiful.  So both districts are eager to provide their students with opportunities that might lead to careers in CS, and to have engaging experiences that motivate their students to take more courses in CS.

    As the project evaluators, we focused on teacher implementation and efficacy and the ways in which they were able to integrate and sustain robotics work.  We are analyzing our last wave of data, and will hopefully publish results later this year.  

    Our colleagues at CMU's CREATE Lab are focused on student outcomes (including interest).  They have done some preliminary analyses and published conference papers which you can find on their website: http://www.cmucreatelab.org/publications.  They will also publish more about student results later this year.

    Thank you for your interest!



  • May 21, 2017 | 03:40 p.m.

    It's great to see the diversity and depth to which student and teachers were able to go while integrating robotics into their classrooms. Congratulations on your great work. 

  • Icon for: Debra Bernstein

    Debra Bernstein

    May 22, 2017 | 09:36 a.m.

    Thanks, Selma.  It's been a pleasure for us to work with such creative teachers and administrators on this project.

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.

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