The Australian Educational Researcher

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 315–337 | Cite as

The architecture of children’s use of language and tools when problem solving collaboratively with robotics

  • Kathy A. MillsEmail author
  • Vinesh Chandra
  • Ji Yong Park


This paper demonstrates, following Vygotsky, that language and tool use has a critical role in the collaborative problem-solving behaviour of school-age children. It reports original ethnographic classroom research examining the convergence of speech and practical activity in children’s collaborative problem solving with robotics programming tasks. The researchers analysed children’s interactions during a series of problem solving experiments in which Lego Mindstorms toolsets were used by teachers to create robotics design challenges among 24 students in a Year 4 Australian classroom (students aged 8.5–9.5 years). The design challenges were incrementally difficult, beginning with basic programming of straight line movement, and progressing to more complex challenges involving programming of the robots to raise Lego figures from conduit pipes using robots as pulleys with string and recycled materials. Data collection involved micro-genetic analysis of students’ speech interactions with tools, peers, and other experts, teacher interviews, and student focus group data. Coding the repeated patterns in the transcripts, the authors outline the structure of the children’s social speech in joint problem solving, demonstrating the patterns of speech and interaction that play an important role in the socialisation of the school-age child’s practical intellect.


Problem solving Language Cognition Speech Vygotsky Collaboration 



This research was funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage scheme project LP0990289. The views are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council. The authors acknowledge research colleagues Professor Allan Luke and A/Prof Annette Woods et al. and research partners—the Queensland Teachers’ Union and the school staff involved in this project. All students in this study provided consent from caregivers to participate. All names are pseudonyms.


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Copyright information

© The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathy A. Mills
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vinesh Chandra
    • 2
  • Ji Yong Park
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Education, School of CurriculumQueensland University of TechnologyKelvin GroveAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Education, School of CurriculumQueensland University of TechnologyKelvin GroveAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Education, School of CurriculumQueensland University of TechnologyKelvin GroveAustralia

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