You Have to Tell the Robot What to Do: Children's Conceptions of Robots Before and After Technology Instruction - Seminar

Event Date: September 8, 2011
Speaker: Dr. Corinne Zimmerman
Speaker Affiliation: Department of Psychology,
Illinois State University
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Forney Hall, G124
Contact Name: Dr. Demetra Evangelou
Contact Phone: 494-4158
Contact Email:

Technology education is relatively recent but becoming more common in elementary classrooms.  Although many studies have explored children’s concepts of scientific phenomena, far fewer have focused on technology. We report the use of a simple and easy-to-score task that can be used by teachers and researchers interested in students’ conceptions of robots and robotics.

The “draw-a-robot task” was administered to 143 children in grades 1-3 to examine the range of conceptions held by elementary students.  Half of the second-graders were then exposed to targeted instruction in their science classes, including a field trip to a Children’s Museum with a robotic arm display.

Although an interest/attitude measure showed no changes as a function of instruction, students’ drawings were very different. Prior to instruction, the modal robot was humanoid, geometric in form, and engaged in a variety of human activities (dancing, having fun, homework). After instruction, humanoid characteristics were almost completely absent. Changes in knowledge as evident in the drawings and brief essays were largely maintained three months later. Implications and potential uses of this new tool are discussed.

Dr. Corinne Zimmerman is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Illinois State University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Alberta and conducted postdoctoral research on the cognitive validity of performance assessments in science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center. Her research interests focus on cognitive development, with a particular emphasis on the development of scientific reasoning skills and scientific literacy. Her research has been published in International Journal of Science Education, Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, Public Understanding of Science, and Developmental Review.