[IQP] Developing a Robotics Curriculum in Panama with Fundesteam

Sponsor: Fundesteam
Student Team: Nathan Johansen
Matthew Boros
Cem Alemdar
Abstract: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education has been an exponentially
growing field all over the world. Panama has been slow in following this trend compared to the
rest of the world. Since 2013 there have been several non-governmental organizations whose
mission is to teach children in Panama the importance of STEM education, and improve the
quality of STEM education in Panamanian schools. One such non-governmental organization is
Fundesteam, our sponsor, which is planning on creating a curriculum and proposing it to
schools throughout Panama to encourage students between the ages fourteen and eighteen to
pursue higher education in STEM fields. They have asked us to create workshops using
Arduino technology to teach concepts in physics, robotics, computer science, mechanical
engineering, and math.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

Panama, while better off than many developing nations, is still progressing but is behind many modern standards. As a developing nation, Panama’s economy is not the most efficient nor productive. One of Panama’s downfalls is its education system. Panama’s education system is roughly 5 years behind the USA. A significant way to improve a country’s economy is to increase the magnitude of the educated and skilled workforce. This is the goal of the nonprofit and nongovernmental company, Fundesteam, our sponsor.

STEM refers to the technical subjects, which are what Panama’s education lacks the most. STEM has been rapidly growing in today’s society, both in schools and the workplace. People with STEM degrees experience very high employment rates and vast opportunities. With STEM growing at faster and faster rates around the world, it is imperative that Panama adopts STEM into their education system to quickly advance and not fall further behind.

While Fundesteam has their own classroom, and provides private after-school programs to teach and inspire STEM related subjects, they aim to further their influence on a more national scale. The task they set for themselves is to provide an online robotics curriculum that Panamanian public schools can access and then teach their own students. Before our team’s arrival, Fundesteam has created 24 workshops; our task was to continue their effort by making their curriculum larger and more comprehensive.

This curriculum utilizes Arduino technology, an open sourced module which reads computer programming and then controls robotic components to perform certain tasks. It is a great tool for education as it provides an intersection to theoretical learning with hands-on practice.

This project’s goal was to aid Fundesteam in improving Panama’s education system by implementing an Arduino robotics curriculum in public schools. In pursuit of this goal we sought to accomplish three main research objectives. The first step was to identify potential obstacleswith teaching robotics in Panama. Next was to collaborate with primary stakeholders to obtain as many resources as possible. The final, and main focus of this project was to develop robotics workshops for public school students. We completed these objectives through cooperation with the employees of Fundesteam along with research of Arduino technology and its applications.

Our team worked on designing robotics workshops that were efficient in combining real world problems, aspects that interest students, and academic variety. In our process, we found key attributes of a successful lesson. We made the lessons concentrate on the different subjects of programming, engineering, or math. We varied our lessons through these three topics. These topics all come together to cover the major building blocks of robotics. It is more effective to work on one skill at a time rather trying to master several things at once.

Our next finding is to place our modules in a context with real life problems and examples. This is important because this context reaffirms the student that what they are learning is important and useful. If the student is bored while completing the workshop, they will not absorb the material as well as they should. In addition, seeing the potential impact they could have in society will serve as an inspiration to pursue higher STEM education.

Our third finding is how valuable it is to endorse creativity from the student. This was done by including a challenge at the end of the workshop. This challenge served as a self test for the student to prove to themself that they genuinely understand the material by utilizing knowledge in the absence of step-by-step instruction. In addition, fostering creativity instills in the student soft skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, which are important and applicable in everyday life.

Our final finding is that it is necessary to utilize Arduino parts that the students have access to. Arduino components come in pre-assembled kits. Therefore, it is key to create workshops with parts to which the students will have access. Otherwise, the lesson and its goal will essentially be lost.

At the conclusion of our work, we have come up with recommendations for future projects. Our first recommendation is to have more communication with public schools. To increase the the effectiveness of the curriculum, future projects should be focused on more direct communication with the audience, rather than relying Fundesteam for guidance. Our second is to expand this project elsewhere. Using our findings, creating a curriculum can be done anywhere that improvement is needed or desired.