Skip to main content

Placemat Instructions for Open-Ended Robotics Challenges

  • Conference paper
  • First Online:
Robotics in Education (RiE 2020)

Part of the book series: Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing ((AISC,volume 1316))

Included in the following conference series:


This research documents our investigation of alternative forms of written instructions for robotics education. Currently, instructions that accompany educational robotics kits often provide students with step-by-step directions leading them to one “correct” solution. This research explores alternative forms of written instructions called placemat instructions. Placemat instructions are a one-page (double-sided) representation of an open-ended robotics challenge. They give students a few images of example builds and some code snippets to get them started, but they do not provide step-by-step instructions or dictate the creation of a single solution. The goal of this study is to investigate what type of learning experiences unfold when placemat instructions are used to facilitate open-ended robotics challenges in K–12 classrooms, and how these learning experiences differ from those when no placemat instructions are used. We analyzed classroom video data to look for ways students did or did not use the placemats, where students became stuck or required the assistance of a peer or instructor, and the time it took each group to reach an initial testable prototype. Based on these data, we found that the use of placemat instructions to support open-ended robotics challenges in an 8th grade science classroom was successful in: (1) helping students quickly and easily get started with open-ended design challenges, (2) supporting students and teachers when questions arose during the activity, and (3) inspiring a diverse set of student-generated solutions to a problem.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 149.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 199.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Mehalik, M.M., Doppelt, Y., Schuun, C.D.: Middle-school science through design- based learning versus scripted inquiry: better overall science concept learning. J. Eng. Educ. 97(1), 71–85 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Stager, G.S., Ph, D.: A constructionist approach to teaching with robotics four case studies of robotics projects. In: Constructionism (2010)

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barreto, F., Benitti, V.: Computers & education exploring the educational potential of robotics in schools: a systematic review. Comput. Educ. 58(3), 978–988 (2012)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Korkmaz, Ö.: The effect of Lego Mindstorms Ev3 based design activities on students’ attitudes towards learning computer programming, self-efficacy beliefs and levels of academic achievement. Balt. J. Mod. Comput. 4(4), 994–1007 (2016)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Liu, M., Lee, S., Chang, H.M.: Examining how middle school science teachers implement a multimedia-enrched problem-based learning environment. Interdiscip. J. Probl. Learn. 6(2), 46–84 (2012)

    Google Scholar 

  6. Gertzman, A.D.: A case study of problem-based learning in a middle school science classroom: lessons learned. In: Proceedings of the 1996 International Conference on Learning Sciences (1995)

    Google Scholar 

  7. Johnson, A.M., Jacovina, M.E., Russell, D.G., Soto, C.M.: Challenges and solutions when using technologies in the classroom. In: Adaptive Educational Technologies for Literacy Instruction, pp. 13–29 (2016)

    Google Scholar 

  8. Ertmer, P.A., Simons, K.D., Simons, K.D.: Jumping the PBL implementation hurdle: supporting the efforts of K – 12 teachers. Interdiscip. J. Probl. Learn. 1(1), 40–54 (2006)

    Google Scholar 

  9. Odden, T.O.B., Russ, R.S.: Defining sensemaking: bringing clarity to a fragmented theoretical construct. Sci. Educ. 103(1), 187–205 (2019)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Blikstein, P.: Digital fabrication and ‘making’ in education the democratization of invention. In: FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors, no. September, pp. 203–221 (2015)

    Google Scholar 

  11. Rogers, C.: Learning STEM in the Classroom, LEGO Engineering (2014). Accessed 06 Jan 2020

  12. Chambers, J., Carbonaro, M., Rex, M., Grove, S.: Scaffolding knowledge construction through robotic technology: a middle school case study. Electron. J. Integr. Technol. Educ. 6, 55–70 (2007)

    Google Scholar 

  13. The LEGO Group: Subassembly Constructopedia. In: LEGO Group (1999), LEGO MINDSTORMSTM set for Schools # 9790, Billund, Denmark, pp. 1–109 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  14. Khanlari, A.: Teachers’ perceptions of the benefits and the challenges of integrating educational robots into primary/elementary curricula. Eur. J. Eng. Educ. 41(3), 320–330 (2016)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Bringing Best-in-Class STEM and Robotics Tools to the Classroom with LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 for High School (2019). Accessed 06 Jan 2020

  16. Torok, R.: Silly Walks (2019). Accessed 06 Jan 2020

  17. Vygotsky, L.S.: Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cole, M. (ed.), pp. 79–91 (1978)

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank the National Science Foundation grant number A451001 SF9018 and LEGO Education for their partial funding of this project. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or of LEGO Education. We would also like to thank Hyejin Im for assistance on the layout and artistic design of the placemat instructions. Lastly, we would like to thank the teachers who provided their time and expertise to make this study possible.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara Willner-Giwerc .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this paper

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this paper

Willner-Giwerc, S., Danahy, E., Rogers, C. (2021). Placemat Instructions for Open-Ended Robotics Challenges. In: Lepuschitz, W., Merdan, M., Koppensteiner, G., Balogh, R., Obdržálek, D. (eds) Robotics in Education. RiE 2020. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 1316. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics