CEC Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2004

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Gerorge K. Fornshell

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Abstract

The amount of knowledge that students are required to master continues to grow. Teachers struggle to find age appropriate ways to integrate state academic standards, technology standards, and 21st century workplace skills. Improved problem solving skills are deemed important to these standards as well as in the workplace. This dissertation utilized a robot design project to examine the changes in problem solving skills of seventh grade science students. In the process, 21st century workplace skills, technology standards, and South Carolina middle school science and math standards were identified and integrated into the learning process.

To test the validity of the study, a combination of a descriptive/nonequivalent control group design was utilized. One seventh grade science class was pre-tested using the Test of Adult Basic Education-Problem Solving (TABE- PS), participated in the robotics project and post-tested using an equivalent form of the TABE-PS. A similar class served as a control group. They were pre-tested using the same assessment tool, participated in the traditional science class and finally, post-tested. Descriptive data collected during the project were evaluated using a standardized rubric. The robot design project consisted of nineteen 85 minute classes and was divided into three sections: introduction to robotics and programming, a series of robotic "missions" where students refine programming and robotic construction skills and a final showcase project where students programmed, designed, and constructed vehicles that competed in a drag race.

T-tests of independent samples indicated that there was a general trend for overall improvement in student problem solving skills; however, the difference between the control and experimental groups' scores was not significant. Four sub-scores of problem solving abilities were examined. These include:

  1. Employing reading and math skills to identify and define a problem.
  2. Examining situations using problem-solving techniques.
  3. Making decisions about possible solutions to a problem.
  4. Evaluating outcomes and effects of implementing solutions.

Additional I-tests of independent samples indicated that there was no significant difference between the scores of experimental and control groups for sub-scores 1-3. The experimental group did show significant improvement in their ability to evaluate outcomes and effects of implementing solutions over the control group. Evaluation of student work using the Student Individualized Performance Inventory (SIP) indicated that student problem solving skills improve as they become more familiar with programming and robot construction. Two areas of student weakness emerged from this analysis. Documentation of the technical work completed was weak as was the student use of available reference material. Rubric scores also indicated a correlation between the scores of the individuals in the group and the performance of the robot. Simply stated, groups whose individuals had higher mean scores constructed robots that performed better.

This work provides teachers with a model of how they can integrate state specific content standards with quality experiences that help students to become effective learners in school and the workplaces of tomorrow. This research provided evidence that use of high-interest, developmentally appropriate programming and robotic design activities can begin to improve student problem solving abilities. While helping students improve, teachers will also satisfy the directives of their state, the United States federal government, and employers of the future

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