8290 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Daniel Miller-Uueda
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  1. Diedra Krieger
  3. University of Pennsylvania

RET SITE: Robotics Research Experiences for Middle School Teachers

NSF Awards: 1542301

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Adult learners

The GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences hosts 10 middle school math and science teachers per summer through its NSF funded Research Experience for Teachers program. The teachers, all from the School District of Philadelphia, spend over 6 weeks learning about and conducting research in the field of robotics while developing curriculum that could be applied in their classrooms. Teachers worked on computer vision, bio-inspired robotics, human-robot interaction, and flying robots. Every teacher developed their own novel research questions after conducting a literature review, created a methodology, conducted experiments and built prototypes, and then presented their findings to an academic audience. Teachers in the program have demonstrated an increase in the integration of inquiry methods, technology, and rigor in the classroom. The video will provide an overview of the program and demonstrate teachers’ experiences.

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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (14 posts)
  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 05:48 a.m.

    Thank you so much for watching our video describing the NSF Penn GRASP Research Experience for Teachers program. We have been honored to host exceptional educators from the School District of Philadelphia and give them a chance to grow their practice through rigorous and authentic research in a robotics laboratory. 

    We would love to hear your feedback about our program. Specifically, we are interested in developing capacity for dissemination of the model we have developed by partnering with teacher education programs. If you have any input, we would love to hear it. I'm also here to answer any questions you may have.

    I also want to introduce my co-presenter, Diedra Krieger, who created this video.

  • Icon for: Diedra Krieger

    Diedra Krieger

    May 14, 2018 | 09:35 a.m.

    Thank you for the introduction Dan! Looking forward to the conversation!

  • Icon for: Kevin Brown

    Kevin Brown

    Associate Director
    May 14, 2018 | 12:28 p.m.

    Very encouraging to see this kind of program have the intended effect! In fact, I am interested in learning more about how you measured the impact of GRASP on teachers’ classroom practices and whether you saw any variation by teacher characteristics/background or by mentoring practices? It is nice to see that you are experimenting with the mentoring structure to make the program more scalable and am also wondering if the mentors require any PD themselves to help them work effectively with teachers?

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 02:56 p.m.

    Thanks for the questions Kevin. We are using mixed methodology to develop a sense of the meaning that teachers derive from their research experience and how that meaning influences their practice. Interviews by an external evaluator and conducted internally showed teachers talking about and using inquiry practices more frequently and increasing rigor for their students. We have used a 21st Century Teaching survey from Ravitz et al. (2012) as a quantitative measure but found minimal change in our first data set. We believe that this minimal change was due to teachers not having a good baseline of comparison so we are working on getting better results in our next two data sets.

    We didn't really see any differences with respect to characteristics/background, though there was certainly a different with respect to mentor practice. When mentors provided experiences where teachers authentically conducted inquiry, their appreciation for and practice of inquiry in the classroom increased. 

    We do provide PD to the mentors that involves walking through the steps of research we plan for teachers, practicing good mentoring techniques (for example, not telling and showing answers), and how to manage time.

    Ravitz, J., Hixson, N., English, M., & Mergendoller, J. (2012, April). Using Project Based Learning to Teach 21st Century Skills: Findings From a Statewide Initiative. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, BC. 
  • Icon for: Mark Windschitl

    Mark Windschitl

    May 14, 2018 | 12:32 p.m.

    Daniel and colleagues, I really liked the honest discussion of the challenges as well as the benefits of these collaborations, especially when you included the voices of the teachers about their plans for the future. Can you share a bit about the kinds of shifts you see in either the teacher's practices or the students' engagement that are harder to measure but evident nonetheless? I'm wondering too about what the mentors get out of the partnership. Do they get better at mentoring as the year goes on, or from one year to the next?

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 03:11 p.m.

    The biggest shift we are seeing is in a general awareness of what it takes for engineers (or scientists) to conduct engineering research (or science research). That awareness was clearly displayed through a quantitative study we conducted based on REU studies (Rorrer, 2016). In interviews, teachers spoke about a new understanding they had of the types of thinking and epistemological approaches in engineering and science. This understanding led to increased discovery, open-ended questions, engagement with student thought, and a focus on problem solving. And yes, this has been hard to measure. Observations and interviews have proved the best approach to collecting data. 

    Regarding the mentors, they certainly derive a positive experience from working with the teachers, merely for altruistic reasons. Beyond that, they gain an understanding of how to explain complex topics with the public, a sorely needed skill in academia. I'd also like to mention that the mentors come to respect middle school teachers and their skills beyond the levels they might have before. There is certainly some stereotype breaking that occurs in this program.

    Rorrer, A. S. (2016). An evaluation capacity building toolkit for principal investigators of undergraduate research experiences: A demonstration of transforming theory into practice. Evaluation and program planning55, 103-111.

  • Isaac Uyehara

    Graduate Student
    May 15, 2018 | 09:32 a.m.

    Very interesting project. Have you noticed or been able to measure what types of projects, topics, or lesson plans are more likely to be successful? Any thoughts on how this would scale to high school teachers as well?

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 09:48 a.m.

    Thanks for the question Isaac. We haven't seen a project or topic dependent difference in the effectiveness of the program. Teachers have engaged in research on computer vision, legged robotics, autonomous swarming, human-robot interaction, and microrobotics and the results have been relatively equivalent. However, we have noticed a difference deriving from the nature of the research experience. When teachers engaged in a project that asked them to observe science, or merely follow directions in order to learn skills, in contrast to engaging in true inquiry, they did not have the same conceptual change as other teachers. In fact, in interviews, teachers recognized the difference between their experiences. Therefore, our challenge has been to create a uniform experience that has teachers engage in deep inquiry into the state of the art in their field. 

    Regarding scaling this to high school teachers, one of our challenges has been that middle school teachers have not had the high levels of mathematics and physics that many high school teachers have. I think this would scale well to high school teachers and most likely be easier to do. Many of our middle school teachers require a great deal of support in the fundamentals of math and science behind the research they are doing.

  • Icon for: Megan McKinley

    Megan McKinley

    Doctoral Student
    May 15, 2018 | 04:27 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing this great work. What do you see as next steps beyond the third year of your program? What “aha” moments or unexpected insights have you had?

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 11:58 p.m.

    Great question. We are currently working on a proposal for NSF in the fall to continue this work on a larger scale. I am especially interested in how these types of programs can be utilized in teacher education programs to provide additional subject matter knowledge to teachers of math and science. 

    The biggest aha moment we have had in this program has been the importance of rigor in the teacher activities. I love the work of Laura Desimone (2009) regarding the design of successful professional development experiences, however, we have seen a significant relevance to the level of rigor, struggle, and frustration that teachers experience and their appreciation for the same in the classroom. One teacher, after participation in our program, reported in an interview: "I approach the children differently. I don't look at them as helpless beings anymore, I look at them as capable beings. I look at them as being capable of doing whatever is being put in front of them." To me, this was an eye-opening experience lesson in both how we need to treat teachers (as if they are also capable) and how important rigor and high-expectation environments are to learning.

  • Icon for: Nidaa Makki

    Nidaa Makki

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 16, 2018 | 11:29 a.m.

    Very interesting project!

    You mention the level of rigor being a challenge, and the teachers also talked about gaps in content knowledge. I have also found in my work that gaps in knowledge can be a factor in the comfort level in implementing inquiry in the classroom, especially in middle school. Can you elaborate on how supported the teachers with the level of rigor as well as how to overcome the struggle and frustration? 

    Thank you! 

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 10:46 p.m.

    As I mentioned above, the rigor that teachers were immersed in contributed to interesting conceptual changes regarding the expectations they had for their students. However, as you point out, finding that sweet spot, or that Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978; Warford, 2011), can be incredibly tricky. In fact, in our first summer, we had some teachers considering dropping out of the program. Based on feedback we received that first summer, we made three changes that helped achieve that optimal level of rigor:

    1. We moved our first two literature investigation classes and the first two assignments before the beginning of the RET. This allowed teachers to struggle with material a little on their own time and in their own level of comfort, then come in on the first day with some background and eagerness to learn more. 

    2. We provided extreme transparency about the level of frustration they would face in the program and routinely checked in regarding that frustration. I used to do this as a teacher of high school students as well: tell them what they will do is going to challenge them, them what they are doing is challenging, and then celebrate with them in the struggle and eventual progress. 

    3. We provided a great deal more scaffolding in the research assignments they had to complete. We worked with two master's students in our Graduate School of Education to help translate assignments from engineering speak to teacher speak, including learning objectives and measurable evidence. This ultimately made teachers much comfortable with the tasks asked of them.

    All that said, I think taking this experience and implementing inquiry in the classroom is another leap that we are still working on. Step one has been helping teachers understand inquiry as the nature of science/math. Step two is understanding the aspects of inquiry and developing the pedagogical content knowledge to teach it. Step three though is convincing teachers that exposure to content through direct instruction does not prepare students for state tests. The last step is proving the hardest to overcome. 

    I'll leave you with a quote from one of our teachers: 

    “the summer sort of liberated me…It made me a little more courageous, because honestly before the summer I would have felt … I might be asking too much of the kids to figure it out and I didn't want to stress them. I just wanted them to learn the content. You know, just learn the content. Whereas with my own experience [in RET], it wasn't so stressful. It was enlightening. You know? They're entitled to that opportunity, to have that opportunity in learning. They're entitled to be uncomfortable…and not just entitled to be uncomfortable but entitled…to have the satisfaction of getting themselves to a comfortable place…That’s empowering.”

    Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Warford, M. K. (2011). The zone of proximal teacher development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(2), 252–258.
  • Icon for: Cristina Pomales-Garcia

    Cristina Pomales-Garcia

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 15, 2018 | 07:35 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing your work. It is important to involve middle school teachers in these kinds of programs as there are few opportunities for them. In your recruiting process, do you select teachers with any particular background like science or mathematics? Has the participation in the summer program inspired teachers to create similar projects for their students in classroom projects, extracurricular activities or science fair events? 

    I have been involved in a high school teacher research summer experience (4-weeks) for the past few years and we have been successful guiding teachers to create educational modules inspired in their summer experiences that can be translated into their classrooms. In this regard, have you been able to measure the impact of the program in your teacher's classroom activities after the summer experiences?

  • Icon for: Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Daniel Miller-Uueda

    Lead Presenter
    May 15, 2018 | 11:51 p.m.

    Thanks Cristina. We agree with the lack of focus on middle school teachers. 

    We select only math and science teachers for the program.

    We work with teachers to create unit plans that connect their research with their course content and then our mentors help with implementation. In addition, many of our teachers have gone on to start robotics programs and coding clubs in their schools. There has been significant professional growth as a result of the program as well with some teachers becoming lead math/science teachers.

    While we are looking at the specific implementation of their co-designed lessons, we are seeking to measure impact on their day-to-day instruction as well. Through interviews, observations, and surveys, we are finding some positive movement toward inquiry, student-centered, and dialogic instruction. 

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