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ISSN : 2092-674X (Print)
ISSN : 2092-6758 (Online)
Asia-Pacific Collaborative education Journal Vol.6 No.1 pp.98-120

Investigating Pre-service Elementary Teachers’ Learning and Teaching through Robotics: An Example from Korea

Min Kyeong Kim, Sun Hee Min
Min Kyeong Kim is a professor of Department of Elementary Education, Ewha Womans University. Her research interests include robot education, ICT use in education, and mathematical education.
Sun Hee Min is a doctoral candidate of
Department of Elementary Education,
Ewha Womans University.
Her research interests include mathematical
creativity and robot education.
Received Date: April 2, 2010, Revision received Date: May 28, 2010, Accepted Date: June 11, 2010


Robotics technology has been well absorbedinto Papert’s constructionist perspective(Papert, 1996) as well as thatof Jonassen’s (2000). Robotics allowsstudents to explore creatively, and increasesstudents’ creativity toward computerprogramming, mechanical designingand constructing, problem solving,collaborating, and motion within an active,enjoyable, and immersive environment,including subjects such as physics,mathematics, and electronics. The principalobjectives of this study were to assessthe manner in which perceptions of learningrobotics and planning lessonsthrough robotics of pre-service elementaryteachers could evolve, and to evaluatepre-service elementary teacher programvia a case study of a university-based in Korea. This paper introducesa method by which robotics technologymight be integrated into apre-service elementary course, and alsoincludes an analysis of pre-service teachers'robotics activities and their teachingstrategy for developing instructions inusing robotics.



 In a knowledge-based society, social- life-oriented knowledge will be applicable to societal directives. As it can be practical, consensus-based, predicated on concrete problem-solving, and oriented to life values, life-centered education for the knowledge society needs to be focused on practice-centered, life-centered, human relation-centered, application- centered, process-centered, and problem-solving-centered knowledge (Huh, Kang & So, 2000). Constructivism, one of the learning theories that support learner-centered education, is a theory that explains how learners can actively engage in a process of rationalizing their environment and experiences via the creation of their own knowledge.

 Since Papert (1980) introduced an innovative method to help children explore Logo, using Lego mindstorms with robots via a programming method based on mathematics and a scientific approach to logical thinking, Papert has attempted to create a rich and unique educational environment using robotics in education. In the Logo environment, children are not criticized for making programming errors. After sets of trials and errors, the reiterative process of debugging and reflection is a normal and appropriate way of understanding the program. Papert (1980) previously described the potential of educational computing as a tool for thinking, working, learning, and communication.

 Since robotics has been discussed in the context of its potential educational power--for instance, to allow students to creatively explore and enhance thinking skills, there have been concrete and conceivable results regarding the potential effectiveness of robotics in several regards (e.g. The 4-H robotics program: Baker & Ansorge, 2007). Kafai (2006) has described the best experiences, which prove that learners could establish optimal efficacy from learning, not though simple interaction using instructional resources, but by using their own process of design and development. Furthermore, Portsmore (1999) asserted a need for technology, such as Robolab, which is managed using intuitive robotics programming software to facilitate lifelong education.

 From a perspective of advantage in robotics for the teaching and learning process, this study was conducted to assess pre-service elementary teachers’ perceptions of learning robotics and planning lessons through robotics.

Robotics in education

Robot Issues in Korea

 Technology foresight plans and activities in Korea have been addressed and undertaken since 2003. One of these activities is the organization of the ‘National Technology Road Map [NTRM]’, run by governmental departments, which is designed to help experts identify and develop promising core technologies to secure global competitiveness for the next 10 years. The NTRM plan was established to realize the following 5 visions (Ministry of Science and Technology, 2002):

 · Vision I: Building an Information-Knowledge-Intelligence Society

 · Vision II: Aiming at Bio-Healthpia    

 · Vision III: Advancing the E2 (Environment and Energy) Frontier

 · Vision IV: Upgrading the Value of Major Industries of Korea Today

 · Vision V: Improving National Safety and Prestige

 The ‘Intelligent Robot’ initiative was one of the strategic products and functions of ambient intelligence, contained in Vision I.

 The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy [MOCIE] (2005) announced that future strategies for Korea’s electronics industry and specialized robots constituted a new core technology. Later in 2006, The Korean MOCIE announced that the government would promote the robotics industry from the policy initiative perspective in 2006. Additionally, in 2009, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy [MKE] of Korea announced a plan to build the world’s first robot- themed park in 2014, and also established a long-term vision of placing Korea’s robot industry in the third position in the world by 2013, along with national future strategies of an intelligent robot industry and the development of talents using robotics.

 The future of robotics has been included in the 2007 Revised National Curriculum Development (MOEST, 2007) and the manipulation and movement of robot fingers are to be included in practical arts education. An explanation of the principles underlying robot operation and robot production was also included. In particular, recently, science events and intelligent robot contests have been held at many schools every Science Month in Korea and thus robotics education has been revitalized as an aptitude education. Recently, emphasizing the need for a realistic assessment of the problem, the 2007 Revised National Curriculum Development (Ministry of Education, Science and Technology [MOEST], 2007) and universities of elementary teacher education in Korea have begun to include scientific knowledge and the application of life technology with robotics (Table 1).

Table 1. Robots of the 2007 Revised National Curriculum Development of Korea

 Even though the creation of robot models and kits has been placed at the center of interest so far, the meaning and application of robotics has recently been expanded to the integration of robotics into technology, problem-solving, science, and mathematics, as well as the integration of robotics into pre-service teacher programs (Choi, 2003; Lee, 2002; Kang & Moon, 2008; Kim et al., 2007). Learning through robots in Korea mainly involves contests or robot experience activities; additionally, commercial and educational robots have been supplied through optional activities in school, and various robotics researches have been introduced and reported for many years (Table 2).

Table 2. Research trends related to robotics education in elementary education in Korea

To bring robotics to school

 Since the solving of complex problems in real life involves dynamically changing environmental conditions during the solving of problems, the solving of problems in an appropriate manner is not a simple proposition. However, the use and integration of robotics enables children to explore new types of problems to be solved in an artificial simulation environment. Lego enables children to explore computer programming, as well as the workings and use of gears, motors, sensors (e.g. touch sensor, light sensor, rotation sensor temperature sensor and so on), and ultimately mathematics, science, engineering, and electronics. Malec (2001) proposed a set of categorizations for robot education to facilitate the teaching of robotic technology, robotics in education, and robotics for education.

 Previous researches have been conducted to investigate children’s learning with robots in a variety of settings. Cole & O’Connor (2003) showed that robotics activities allow children to learn cooperation, decision-making, communication, and responsibility, and also to develop creativity and concentration skills. Additionally, several robotics applications have been developed for autistic children who require special education (Virnes, Sutinen & Kărnă-Lin, 2008), which will help them to express and explore two-way communication, hands-on programming, and instruction and intervention (Robins, Dautenhahn, Boekhorst & Billard, 2005). The development and application of integrated robotics programs for elementary students (Hendler, 2000; Kang, 2003; Kang & Moon, 2008; Lindh & Holgersson, 2007; Kim & Min, 2008; Rogers & Portmore, 2004) have also been a focus. Additionally, Barker & Ansorge (2007) looked at robotics as a means to increase achievement scores in an informal learning environment, and Roman (2007) designed a firefighting robot for education.

 Using Lego materials and Robolab software, Rogers & Portsmore (2004) met with significant success in bringing engineering into classrooms, as well as mathematics, reading & writing, and science in an elementary school setting. Also, Rusk, Resnick, Berg & Pezalla-Granlund (2008) have introduced novel strategies for introducing young people to robotics technologies: (1) focusing on themes; (2) combining art and engineering; (3) encouraging storytelling; and (4) composing exhibitions. The effectiveness of robots has been investigated in many ways by many people; Fagin & Merkle on computer science courses, Kumar (2004) on an artificial intelligence course, and Thangiah & Joshi (1997) on the introduction of robotics at the undergraduate level. On the other hand, some gender difference research-- for instance, the study of Wiesner-Steiner, Schelhowe & Wiesner (2007), and Bae (2007) demonstrated the didactic potential of robotics for education, particularly for female students, asserting that robotics might function as an appropriate educational tool in the more comprehensive sense of developing the personalities of females.

The need for robotics experience of learning and teaching in pre-service teacher education

 The National Academy of Sciences (Bransford, Pellegrino & Donovan, 1999) has produced a rationale for the development of a model pedagogical laboratory idea to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, several studies concerning teachers’ professional development (e.g., Bers, Ponte, Juelich, Viera & Schenker, 2002, Bers & Potsmore, 2005) and introduced and explained the beneficial implications of technology on teacher education. Park (2008) has developed an education program for the technology component of practical arts education using robot craft classes for pre-service teachers. Ma, Lai, Williams, Prejean, and Ford (2008) have explored the efficacy of field experience programs in a model pedagogical laboratory, and then described the implications for future designs in the preparation of teacher education programs.

 However, many researches (Kang, 2003; Kim, 2004) have shown that pre-service elementary teachers and in-service teachers did not possess sufficient knowledge or experience in the use and integration of robotics technology into their teaching practice. The effective implications of changing teachers’ practices could provide them with collegiate experiences gained during their teacher preparation program (Kim & Sharp, 2000). Furthermore, pre-service teachers as well as in-service teachers in the 21st century should be provided with the ideas and experiences of robotics educational designs and development, which will play a meaningful role in their preparation for the future.



 The participants were 45 pre-service teachers, majoring in elementary education in a women’s university in Korea, and they had enrolled in the material development & teaching methods course. As a required class this course involved 4 weeks (10 clock hours) of robot programming and the integration of robotics into school units.


 The course principally involves three steps. First, students attended a Logo programming lesson designed to provide programming experience for 3 hours in the first week of the research period. The primitives, procedures, variables, and recursion involved in the Logo language were introduced and investigated.

 Second, the primary activity of the pre-service teachers was to design and create robot helpers over a period of three days, for a total of 6 hours. This was for a school sports’ day (Table 3). The teachers were instructed to record their brainstorming idea and their knowledge process on the worksheet during each activity with Lego Mindstorms NXT (, 2009). Finally, participants completed the teaching strategy test, which required them to formulate a lesson plan in which they would teach with a robot for one hour.

Table 3. Main activity of design and creation of robot and programming

 The procedures over four weeks were composed of three parts, as follows:

 (1) Warming-up for programming with Logo (3 hours for 2 days)

 (2) Main activity of design and creation of robot and programming (6 hours for 3 days)

 · Introducing a robotics activity

 · Brainstorming and identification of robot helper for a school sport day in group

 · Design and creation of robot and programming

 · Presentation of the robot created by each group

 (3) Development of lesson plan with the use and integration with robotics (1 hour for 1 day)

Preparatory lesson through Logo

 Investigate Logo programming including primitives, procedures, variables, and recursion.

Main activity on design and creation of robot and programming

 Explore and practice robot programming (LOGOWIN) and its functions with the sensors and applications of Lego Mindstorms NXT.

 · Explore the structure of a robot

 · Introduce a robotics activity: ‘What kind of robot could be a good helper for students and their family who participate in a school sports day

 · Brainstorm and identify a robot helper for a school sports day in groups

 · Design and creation of robot and programming

 · Investigate the created robot helper in groups

 · Ask students to prepare for the presentation of each group

 · Make presentation to the whole class of a robot helper created by each group

Development of a lesson plan on uses of and integration with robot

 Complete the teaching strategy test about a lesson plan idea involving the use and integration of robotics into an elementary education classroom.

Data collection and analysis

 Evaluation via observation and the educational implications of their own created robot and the process of the design and creation of a robot helper for a school sport day were analyzed in a qualitative manner via worksheets and photographs, because one of the objectives of the study was to assist pre-service teachers in developing and analyzing their strategies in the teaching of robotics in a constructivist manner.

 Additionally, the participants were asked to describe how they plan their teaching strategies that would provide a constructivist-based, robotics education environment to instruct them in the use and integration of robotics in an elementary education classroom.


Pre-service teachers’ understanding about robots

 Pre-service elementary teachers’ robot- helper and the process of the design and creation of a robot helper for a school sports’ day were analyzed using worksheets and photographs. Their activities were analyzed via observational evaluations. In the beginning, they identified the robot-helper for the school sport day, and each group named of their individual robot-helper. Robot-helpers identified from each group were assigned to one of the following three categories:

 · Player robot: weight-lifting player, golf player

 · Master Robot of Ceremonies : race referee robot, starting signal robot, race coach robot, line-drawing robot, ground-leveling robot

 · Entertainment robot: Cheering robot, robot with swing

 The body and programming of the robots have been modified for appropriate robot movement. Meanwhile, the participants recognized that robotics instruction does not mean a typical or stereotypical instruction, but rather a more creative and well-modified variety of instruction. Many groups of participants designed and developed robot-helpers with wheels as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Figure 1. Robot of leveling the ground

Figure 2. Robot of drawing the line

 Pre-service teachers connected motors and wheels to control the robot as they designed in the process of producing the robot body. They then attempted to modify and alter the robot to achieve a better shape and better motion. Eventually, they demonstrated their understanding of the functions and features of robot components. They also evidenced an improved understanding of the robots in the relationship between the programming and the movement of the robot. For instance, the same command can result in a different movement with the same output devices, or a different speed setting can result in movement of the trace rather than a stable movement.

 Participants who were uncertain about the robot’s operation at the beginning, gradually focused on the execution of the robot on their purposes. They identified the robot-helper and its role in accordance with their needs, and then modified the body of the robot and programmed the robot. The initial interest as to whether or not the robot will move in a holistic manner becomes analytic thinking with observation in parts.

Pre-service teachers’ robotics activities

Interest and knowledge of robot

 Using the analysis of the worksheets, the pre-service teachers in this study showed that their knowledge of robots had improved. In the beginning, they evidenced a stereotypical understanding of robots, conceiving them as Humanoids or battle robots. Afterward, they became more deeply interested in programming, attempting to move the robot through the programming process, via an input- process-output process. Examples of Group-A robots are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Example of a group’s stages

 During the first stage, the principal interest of Group-A involved the forging of communication between the robot and computer in order to cause the robot to move. The building and programming of the robots were recorded as separate activities.

 - Input the special commands on computer and programmed the brain of robot

 - Assembled robot body. Connecting legs of robot and body was smoothly. On the other hand, we couldn’t decide how to put together command pad and body.

 In the second stage, delving more deeply into the robot pieces, the body of the robot was concisely illustrated and the emoticon on the worksheet showed their pleasant situation.

 - Finished construction. ^^*

 - Put wheels (each side and middle one) on the NXT and rolled it.

 - Attached sensor and executed programming by successive progress.

 - Thought the stable movement.

 In the third stage, which involved the recording of programming and the robot’s figure together, the teachers expressed their own perspective on the activities. In particular, recording the programming progress as a flowchart was an important step in showing that they understood the process of programming as (input from a sensor)-(process)-(output as dumbbell).

 - Attached sensor and arm lifting dumbbell on robot body.

 - Difficult to operate a switch for change action.

 - Tried to program to make it to move the dumbbell up and down. However, it turned out just one turn in a circle. Then we are commented that the dumbbell is lifting the robot.

Reflections on thinking and attitude

 This study determined that the replacement of pre-service teachers with robots enables them to feel empathetic. Comparing their robots with others’ robots, they were able to discover and appreciate the robots’ strengths. Participants were motivated to reflect on their work and got the chance to develop their learning toward their own personal growth. An example was used to show the importance of the teacher’s connection to personal needs and to the robot regardless of problems that occur, as follows:

Figure 4. Example of a group’s stages

 In the first stage, they described themselves as onlookers, but gradually began to identify their connections to the robots, which actively changed the way they participated in the class.

 It’s a robot which is kind and cute, and awakens me pleasantly. At the beginning, I wondered what it is.

 In the second stage, newly modified robots were shown after overcoming flaws perceived in the first stage. Through robotics instruction, the participants are shown that mistakes or failures should not discourage their motivation and interest, because their purpose is to produce the best robot as defined by the objective, rather than to produce some definite and specific solution. Rather, the difficulty with which they were faced provided pre-service teachers with experiences of flow and concentration on the goal.

 We found a critical flaw in the robot which we designed the last time. Afterwards, we had to be back to the basics and to redesign and modify the robot with a trial and error. We investigated the design drawing of robot in detail and concentrated on the birth of our own neat robot which supports with holding a flag.

 In the third stage, the participants described their eventual success in making a new robot after several trials and errors. This successful experience provided a positive outcome, in that pre-service teachers perceived the positive effects of robot assembly and programming as useful educational resources for scientific and mathematical thinking. This implies that they recognized the benefit of robotics education not only from the perspectives of the learners, but also from the teachers’ perspective toward self-reflection.

 Today is the last day of making a robot. Our team was concentrated on programming today because we almost finished the body part last time. After several trial and errors, we made a robot informing a start signal. Robot will show instructional effect on children’s assembling and programming skill. Robot is a great material enabling children to think scientifically and mathematically.

Cooperative learning

 The robotics instruction described in this study provided pre-service teachers with an experience in solving problems through cooperation. The following case of a pre-service teacher team demonstrates the way in which the teams were concentrated on working together. In the first stage, the participants in the group of four demonstrated their positive emotions with their robot outcomes via emoticons. They indicated that their satisfaction with cooperative activity was a good motivation for the following activity. Their attitudes are considered to reflect improved learning.

 We had a great time that we learned robot ad made it pleasantly and interestingly with friends. We want to bring the robot to home and play with it. We look forward to the next time.

 In the second stage, in a limited time, the group was clearly pleased with the results of their attempts to solve problems cooperatively. At the same time, in every task, the group members showed in their writings and drawings that their positive outcomes were achieved by cooperation, not by individual work. The teachers also wrote that they wished to replicate their achievements individually. As a result, even though the task was difficult, because of their cooperation, at the end when they succeeded, they justifiably felt that they had accomplished their objectives.

 At last, the robot could make a move connecting motor and wheel but it didn’t move at the last time. Even though we got help from the instruction manual, we were very pleasant and excited when robot moved according to our command. Next time, we hope to finish the problem-solving robot by ourselves.

Teaching strategy

 The participants were asked to describe how they plan their teaching strategies for the use and integration of robotics in a constructivist manner into their lesson ideas in an elementary classroom. Pre-service teachers in this study tend to focus on the development and description of their lesson ideas in an integrated fashion with robots. Thus, designing activities for robot-helpers can allow the participants to experience new robot activities as learners and also experience developing their lesson ideas as a teacher.

 The participants described a specific situation and occasionally drew a picture to establish a theme. Samples of participants’ responses on the teaching strategy test are provided. The first example (Figure. 5) is a “puppy robot” which could be connected to the ‘making a moving toy’ chapter in art classes in elementary school. In this case, using an example of a puppy toy with which children can readily connect, new ideas were suggested— namely, the value and potential of robotics applied to life education. When new learning from the learner’s perspective could constitute an innovative instructional approach, the participants’ experience of robotics education could provide them with unique ideas, appropriate to the learner’s level of interest and stage of ability.

Figure 5. Example: A puppy robot

 The next example showed a concept map (Figure 6) of a possible robot idea, enabling the connection of robotics to other curricular subjects such as English communication skills, science with the observational and organizational skills of a robot, as intelligent life with symmetry and equilibriums, as extra-curricular activity, etc. Considering robotics education in elementary school as an application for the use and integration of robotics, the participants are considered to acquire many instructional application ideas via the use of a new instructional medium. In particular, the possibility of actual robotic cognition, which would empower robots to respond to and show sympathy for people, could expand the traditional role and conception of robots to that of emotional partners, and also expand the skill set of a robot into realms previously occupied only by humans.

Figure 6. Example: A concept map of robot’s possible idea


 Constructivism has been recognized as a valuable and powerful theory in implementing educational reforms in which learners can actively engage, such that they can create their own knowledge (Fosnot, 1992; Kim & Sharp, 2000). The educational utilization and generalization of robots provide both teachers and learners with innovative experience in teaching and learning, as well as creative and logical thinking.

 When the pre-service teachers first thought about robots, they only imagined cleaning robots or the sort of robots that were depicted in movies. However, after gaining experience in building and programming robots, the teachers realized that their conception of robots was woefully lacking. As digital products are being extensively used in the modern age, by understanding the robots’ role in the present, teachers’ eyes can be opened while studying, such that they will develop a more curious and pro-active attitude. From this viewpoint, the use of robots in education and in real-life situations, not only obtain chances at understanding, but also do as learners, and we will be provided with the opportunity to concentrate and solve problems in the future. As can be seen above, the experience of using robots will later assist students and teachers in building a substantial foundation for education. When we obtain knowledge, information, etc, through specific experience, we can use that knowledge to solve life problems. From this viewpoint, we can use approaches such as the ones described herein to help students learn in an environment in which they are comfortable, thus allowing them to solve problems more efficiently.

 Robotics education provides learners not only with knowledge and skills regarding robots, but also with problem solving and logical thinking skills that can help with the process of robot development and programming. In that regard, pre-service teachers’ robot experiences will be extremely valuable. The preparation experience the pre-service teachers gained during the course of training to become a teacher helped them to gain an understanding of accomplishment and satisfaction. This process is crucial because it allows them to obtain new knowledge and practical experience. As asserted in the proverb, “teach what you know,” the more experience one has when one is a learner, the better one can teach when one becomes a teacher. This experience can then be used as a basis for the construction of a more realistic and mathematically rigorous environment. The experience of enjoying a particular experience and desiring more, such as when learning to ride a bicycle, includes learning new technology—in this case, robotics. The training of a teacher, when curiosity and the will to be challenged are high, is a crucial period for learning this type of technology.

 Additionally, we can see that experience with robotics learning helps pre-service teachers to achieve a comprehensive reorganization, which allows for better research and analysis. As seen by the worksheets completed by the pre-service teachers, their early perceptions of robots were altered in such a way that they could solve problems in a more analytical way with increasing experience with robots. This also gave them the ability to analyze situations more accurately. This type of perception developed the analytical and logical abilities of the teachers.

 The ability to analyze logical thoughts allows pre-service teachers to improve the concrete ability to solve problems in a creative and idealistic fashion under real conditions, such as a school sports’ day in Korea. The significance of this process is that, by using robots in education, people are allowed to gain meaningful experiences. Via this process, they will develop their ability to think in a more efficient way. Particularly in the case of pre-service teachers, this will help them to build an environment that will stimulate students’ curiosity.

 The ability to enjoy studying and demonstrate high concentration will be the deciding factor in whether the learner is the subject of forming knowledge, or just someone who is using the information. By using robots, the experience of forming knowledge by oneself and concentrating hard in learning will help one to become a creator of knowledge, thus facilitating a more active life and a more proactive style of learning and living.


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