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Using Robotics and Game Design to Enhance Children’s Self-Efficacy, STEM Attitudes, and Computational Thinking Skills

Abstract

This paper describes the findings of a pilot study that used robotics and game design to develop middle school students’ computational thinking strategies. One hundred and twenty-four students engaged in LEGO® EV3 robotics and created games using Scalable Game Design software. The results of the study revealed students’ pre–post self-efficacy scores on the construct of computer use declined significantly, while the constructs of videogaming and computer gaming remained unchanged. When these constructs were analyzed by type of learning environment, self-efficacy on videogaming increased significantly in the combined robotics/gaming environment compared with the gaming-only context. Student attitudes toward STEM, however, did not change significantly as a result of the study. Finally, children’s computational thinking (CT) strategies varied by method of instruction as students who participated in holistic game development (i.e., Project First) had higher CT ratings. This study contributes to the STEM education literature on the use of robotics and game design to influence self-efficacy in technology and CT, while informing the research team about the adaptations needed to ensure project fidelity during the remaining years of the study.

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Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DRL #1311810). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors thank the teachers and students throughout Wyoming for their participation in the study.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline Leonard.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Robotics worksheet

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Appendix 2: Computational thinking rubric

CT components Emerging (1) Moderate (2) Substantive (3)
Formulating problems If–then statements unclear in terms of problem goals (e.g., “Can pigs fly?”) If–then statements create conditions allow agent to move through program using a single condition (e.g., if you see a ghost move left) If–then statements more complex and agent moves to more than one set of criteria (e.g., if you see a ghost and a scarecrow move to the left and/or up)
Abstraction Agent and background resemble tutorial in Frogger game Agent or background is non-traditional and created by the student Agent and background are non-traditional and created by the student
Logical thinking If–then statements do not follow logical path (e.g., agent is stuck and cannot move through the program) If–then statements follow logical path with some complexity (e.g., agent moves through the program but no real challenges) If–then statements follow logical path with more complexity (e.g., agent moves through program but can run into danger)
Using algorithms No evidence of algorithmic use (i.e., game cannot keep score) Some evidence of algorithm use (i.e., the game can keep score) Evidence of algorithm use and final score (i.e., the games keeps score and says “you won”)
Analyzing and implementing solutions No evidence of the ability to debug the program Some evidence of debugging Strong evidence of debugging
Generalizing and problem transfer Game resembles Frogger example Game has some evidence of Frogger but some differences Game is not similar to Frogger at all and shows creative use of knowledge transfer
Use of pop gaming culture No evidence of including elements from other off-shelf games Some similarities to current off-shelf games Substantial modeling or similarities to current off-shelf games with improvements and/or significant modifications

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Leonard, J., Buss, A., Gamboa, R. et al. Using Robotics and Game Design to Enhance Children’s Self-Efficacy, STEM Attitudes, and Computational Thinking Skills. J Sci Educ Technol 25, 860–876 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-016-9628-2

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Keywords

  • Robotics
  • Game design
  • Computational thinking
  • Self-efficacy
  • STEM attitudes
  • Diversity in STEM