National Science Foundation
2.5 Million American Children on an Engineering Career Path
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RET Teachers at work in the CMU Robotics Academy

Credit: CMU/Robin Shoop
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State: Pennsylvania

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Workforce/Education subcommittee (PCAST) recently released a report that helped crystallize what will happen to the nation's economic innovation engine if we do not inspire a larger number of American children to pursue advanced degrees in science and technology. While U.S. students' interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers is declining, foreign countries are significantly increasing the number of STEM graduates coming out of their universities. The number of STEM graduates enables these countries to attract venture capital that has led to a large number of technology-based jobs. Asian countries are graduating eight times the number of engineers as the United States is graduating. In the future, as in the past, our nation's ability to compete economically will be determined by its ability to innovate and commercialize ideas. Louis Pasteur implied that creativity and innovation happen when opportunity meets a prepared mind.

The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) is helping to place millions of American children in research and engineering experiences designed to prepare their minds for innovation. CMU is using robotics to inspire a larger percentage of children to pursue STEM careers. The CMU Robotics Academy curriculum developed in this project is currently being used in over 4000 schools nationwide.

Over the past three years, CMU has offered an RET that places teachers in the position of researchers. Teachers spend five weeks at the National Robotic Engineering Consortium, where they interact with CMU research faculty and staff involved in solving today's robotic problems. Teachers learn how robots work, and are then guided to develop lessons that they can take back to their classrooms. The RET experience has led to the development of curriculum materials that use robotics as the organizer to explicitly teach STEM. The CMU-developed curriculum places students in the role of researchers where they are required to prove concepts using fundamental mathematics, and do science rather than study it. After the students participate in the guided research experiences, they are challenged to solve engineering design problems. Scaffolding for student learning is supplied through a sequence of guided activities on a multimedia CD-ROM, which provides suggestions, background information, and reference material for students. A separate CD guides the instructor, providing templated lesson plans, assessment guides, answer keys to interim quizzes, and support material on both inquiry-based instruction and domain-specific information about robots.

CMU is building on other NSF funded research. It is working with the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), which has been funded through the Math and Science Partnership Program (MSP). The LRDC MSP is named System-wide Change for All Learners and Educators (SCALE). The SCALE program forms teams consisting of cognitive scientists, educators, content specialists, curriculum experts, and administrators working together to develop Immersion Units in which students learn academic content by working like scientists: making observations, asking questions, conducting further investigations to explore and explain natural phenomena, and communicating their results based on evidence. CMU is using the LRDC model and receiving LRDC feedback during its development cycle. CMU has developed instructional modules for both LEGO® and RadioShack, and will release a CMU/LEGO co-branded curriculum that will support the next generation LEGO Mindstorm robot. The end goal of the CMU research is to develop our nation's intellectual capital, enabling American students to compete in the global innovation ecosystem where thinking and problem-solving are the "new basics" of the 21st century.

Partner: University of Pittsburgh

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CMU Robotics Academy-Robotics Engineering

Credit: CMU/Robin Shoop
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