Robotics projects provide exciting opportunities to learn about engineering, problem solving, and collaboration. Students get excited to work together and explore ways to make their robots perform movements and tasks. While the engineering concepts are often the pedagogical spotlight of these activities, they are also important lessons in collaboration. The researchers in this study believe that moments of uncertainty are particularly important for collaborative learning. They examined the peer responses to uncertainty and their influence on learning in robotics engineering projects.
Observing and analyzing a fifth-grade robotics engineering class through a year, the researchers identified two categories of peer responses when a group member encountered uncertainty during their collaborative problem solving. In socially supportive peer responses, the other students may or may not have shared the same uncertainty, but they were willing to help address the uncertainty together. In unsupportive peer responses, group members treated the uncertainty as unreasonable, either by disparaging the group member who expressed uncertainty or ignoring it.
Not surprisingly, socially supportive peer responses to uncertainty helped advance problem solving. Uncertain students in unsupportive groups used other strategies when faced with pushback from the group, like seeking outside resources to solve the problem or withdrawing cognitively or emotionally from the task.
Team robotics projects are exciting and have the potential to inspire interest in science and engineering concepts, but the group work dynamics in these exercises are just as important as the STEM content knowledge for student learning. For educators, paying attention to group interactions and helping students learn to identify, evaluate, and address uncertain moments, as well as teaching and fostering supportive peer responses to uncertainties are critical steps towards enhanced robotics learning projects.
Jordan, M. E., & McDaniel Jr, R. R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences,23 (4), 490-536.
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