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Ready for Robotics: The Missing T and E of STEM in Early Childhood Education: 1118897

Principal Investigator: Marina Bers
CoPrincipal Investigator(s):
Organization: Tufts University

The project investigates the use of robotics into early childhood education. It address two objectives: to develop and evaluate a low-cost, developmentally appropriate robotic construction kit specifically designed for early childhood education (PreK-2) and to pilot a robotics-based professional development model for early childhood educators to teach engineering and technology. A number of research questions are included. To what extent did participating teachers gained knowledge about robotics, engineering and programming, and pedagogies? To what extent have they increased their familiarity of, comfort with, and understanding of the use of robotics in early childhood? To what extent participating in the institute can support the passage from knowledge to action? What processes/standards are used by early childhood teachers to integrate engineering and technology into their traditional curriculum? Do teachers adopt the robotics kit and curriculum for their classrooms? How do they adapt it to their own practices? What are the factors that predict successful outcomes in terms of adoption and adaptation? To what extent has the teaching practice of the teachers changed in a way that demonstrates understanding of the role of T and E in early childhood education?

Robotics provides a playful bridge to make early childhood programs more academically challenging while honoring the importance of play in the developmental trajectory. The assumption is that young children can become engineers by playing with gears, levers, motors, sensors; and programmers by exploring sequences, loops and variables. Robotics can be a gateway for children to learn about applied mathematical concepts, the scientific method of inquiry, and problem solving. Moreover, working with robotic manipulatives engages children in social interactions and negotiations while playing to learn and learning to play.

For robotics to be successfully integrated into the early childhood classroom, there are three factors that need to be considered: the robotics technology needs to be developmentally appropriate and low-cost; and teachers should be exposed to professional development. This project addresses these issues. It contributes to the emerging field of robotics in education by addressing the needs of an educational segment, early childhood, where there is a lack of new technologies and approaches to teach technology and engineering in a developmentally appropriate way.

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