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Robot explorers: Gender and group attitudes to STEM: a pilot evaluation of an outreach robotics activity

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Gender and group attitudes to STEM: a pilot evaluation of an outreach robotics activity.
Alice Peasgood, Jon Rosewell, Tony Hirst

Abstract
Women are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in higher education (HE), although attitudes and participation in STEM are less polarised at younger ages. Outreach activities that aim to inspire and enthuse school-age students may help girls to consider study and careers in STEM subjects.

The Royal Institution run extra-curricular ‘masterclasses’ that aim to inspire school students in mathematics. Our session in a series of secondary maths masterclasses uses a hands-on robotics activity based on the theme of ‘robot explorers’. Students work in small groups to solve the challenge of programming a small mobile robot to navigate by applying their maths and programming skills. This pilot study looked at the possible influence of gender and friendship groups on attitudes to STEM in the context of that activity.

Those attending the masterclass series were Year 9 students nominated by East London schools. Students completed a short evaluation sheet for the session and reported whether they knew others in their group. An observer noted whether boys or girls used the computer, held the robot, and similar measures. All data was collected anonymously and the study was approved by the OU Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC/2016/2238/Rosewell/1).

Preliminary results suggest that girls enjoyed the class more than boys. Girls also showed a greater increase in level of interest in robotics, although from a lower level than boys. There is a suggestion that individuals who found themselves in a group in which they had no friends reported a lower score for enjoyment.

The importance of friendship to the enjoyment and learning experienced in small group activity should be considered in the design of extra-curricular activities if they are to meet their stated aim of enthusing young students.

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Robot explorers: Gender and group attitudes to STEM: a pilot evaluation of an outreach robotics activity

  1. 1. Gender and group attitudes to STEM: a pilot evaluation of an outreach robotics activity Alice Peasgood, APHE Consulting Jon Rosewell & Tony Hirst, The Open University
  2. 2. 2 The masterclasses The Royal Institution run extra-curricular ‘masterclasses’ that aim to inspire school students in mathematics. As a new activity in the series, Jon Rosewell and Tony Hirst run a hands-on session with LEGO Mindstorms robots that involves programming and mathematics. Audience: Year 9 students (pre-GCSE, 13-14 yrs) nominated by their schools. 40 students from 20 schools in East London. Working in teams of four students. Robot Explorers class held in March and October, 3 so far.
  3. 3. LEGO® Mindstorms robot Configured with two drive wheels at the front, one freewheel at the back Steers through differential rotation of front wheels Pre-program using laptop (cable connection). Once started, follows instructions.
  4. 4. 4 Program the robot to move forward by exactly 1 metre and then stop. Introductory activity
  5. 5. 5 Calulate the heading and distance needed to reach the target, then drive the robot the gyro sensor Programming and using maths Pick TurnDrive from the MyBlocks tab Set the heading and distance Build a driving program by adding more blocks
  6. 6. 6 Starting positions
  7. 7. 7 Finishing positions
  8. 8. 8 Funders requested evaluation of gender effects Pilot evaluation An exercise in rapid research design Start of evaluation planning: Thursday 3rd March 2016 Date of robotics event: Saturday 19th March 2016 Jon R: HREC approval, liaison with RI, suggested methods Alice P: evaluation design, observation, data analysis
  9. 9. 9 Method On the day (March 19th): • Observation: which participants had access to the robot and laptop • Self-reported maps of friendship groups within each team (solid line for friends before masterclass series, dashed line for friends made during masterclasses) • Feedback surveys (previously designed by RI and OU) Analysis: • Chi square tests based upon data from March 2016 and October 2015 feedback surveys • Use observation and friendship data for context
  10. 10. 10 Participants: March masterclass 39 total: 22 female, 17 male G ender of participants female male
  11. 11. 11 Write three words about the class Girls Boys
  12. 12. 12 1. Did you enjoy this robotics class? 2. Did you learn something new in this robotics class? 3. Were you interested in robotics before this class? 4. Are you interested in it now (after the class)? Yes, lots Yes, a little No or don’t know
  13. 13. 13 Summary of survey data F M F M F M F M Did you enjoy? Did you learn? Interest in robots before class Interest in robots after class 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% S ummary of feedback from Masterclass held on 19/03/16 Yes, lots Yes, a little No or don't know
  14. 14. 14 Male vs female, chi square significant at p < 0.05 (N=78) Enjoyment, both classes female male 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Did you enjoy this class? No or don't know Yes, a little Yes, lots
  15. 15. 15 Male vs female, chi square not significant (both classes N=78) Learning The free text responses from the March class show that 79% of participants acquired new skills. When responding to the prompt: 'What was the main thing you learnt in the robotics class?', typical comments include: "Programming robots is complicated but really fun" "We learnt about programming and about angles/circles/circumference" "There are robots on Mars" "How to program a robot"
  16. 16. 16 Interest in robotics during class female male 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% C hange in level of interest in robotics during class L ess interested S ame level of interest More interested There is a statistically significant gender difference in the data about changes in the level of interest in robotics as a result of the class, chi square significant at p < 0.01
  17. 17. 17 Friendship groups and use of the laptops To program the robots, one laptop was provided per group. Observations at the start and end of the class show which participants had access to the laptop. Combining this with the friendship data reveals some interesting patterns, although it should be noted that individual student identities were not recorded during observation, so the friendship relationships cannot be mapped definitely onto the observations.
  18. 18. 18 Observations from March class Friendship groups - findings 11 teams: 4 were mixed M/F, 4 were all Female, 3 were all Male Each of the four mixed gender groups contained two clusters of friends. It appears that by the end of the class, one of the clusters had control of the laptop. In the single gender groups with two clusters of friends, it appears that by the end of the class, one of the clusters had control of the laptop. The groups which shared the computer so everyone could see it were either (i) all friends, or (ii) all strangers
  19. 19. 19 "Programming robots is complicated but really fun" Discussion Practical activity with a social aspect engages both girls and boys. This brief evaluation suggests that there is some sort of association between: • Challenge • Satisfaction • Increased interest Friendship groups need to be taken into account when facilitating a class with shared equipment. Tutor intervention may be helpful in ensuring that all students share the equipment.
  20. 20. Acknowledgments eSTEeM at The Open University: evaluation funding The Aldgate & Allhallows Foundation: robot funding The Royal Institution: masterclass organisation and joint evaluation Gillian Hosier, Philanthropy Manager, OU: access to previous survey data and reports Contact Jon.rosewell@open.ac.uk alice@APHEconsulting.co.uk 20
  21. 21. 21 Free text responses from March class Learning challenges Typical comments indicate the challenges encountered: "You had to problem solve for yourself and think back to all the things we had learnt beforehand“ "Getting to grips with it and trial and error“ "The difficulty for me was programming the robot to turn“ "It was difficult to initially control the movement but once we got used to is, it was a lot easier“ "It was hard to work out angles"
  22. 22. 22 Free text responses from the March class Learning: what was difficult? When responding to the prompt: 'Please add a few words to describe your experience of what was difficult about the task', these are the types of response: 39% found the robot programming most difficult 16% found the mathematics most difficult 21% gave another response, including: talking to other people in group, trial and error, problem-solving, robot gyro kept breaking.

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