To support national needs for the future of work, schools and informal learning institutions integrate STEM topics, such as robotics and programming, into curricula. However, current STEM activities that appeal to girls are limited. Women remain underrepresented in STEM fields, such as computer science, engineering, and the physical sciences. By fostering interests of young girls in STEM areas, this project seeks to teach and engage, and so promote their aspiration towards STEM-related careers and becoming leaders. This project brings hands-on, interest-driven learning to girls through activities involving cutting edge 4D printed robotic material technologies. 4D printing is a research area involving digital fabrication of dynamic forms, such as printing processes that produce flat objects capable of self-folding into 3D shapes when triggered by heat or other physical stimuli. Robotic materials, in this context, refer to substances, which have dynamic behaviors, and can sense, respond and act. This project will develop and study a new computational design environment centered on 4D printing of robotic materials to foster curiosity and confidence among girls through interdisciplinary design areas, including shape-changing food, dynamic fashion, and self-folding decor. Examples of materials to be modeled include pasta cooking and a jacket folding. The project will develop the new robotic materials design tool through educational and fun work with young women, in community centers, in socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods.

This research uses technology innovation to work for inclusiveness and equity in STEM education through hands-on, interdisciplinary making, with implications for educational research, computational design, and the development of robotic materials. It will work to advance inclusive STEM education for girls through contextualized development of a 4D robotic materials design environment and associated curriculum. Iterative design will be performed through studies conducted via workshops in informal learning environments. The project will engage middle and high school girls in a combination of creative play and structured tasks, with 4D robotic morphing materials, to investigate three research questions. (1) How to support their learning STEM concepts and skills? (2) How to challenge their preconceived attitudes about their own abilities in STEM, narrow the pre-existing knowledge gap between genders, and decrease stereotype threats? (3) How to contribute to girls gaining new confidence and STEM career aspirations? The investigation will combine constructivist learning through doing with design-based approaches of ethnographic action research, open portfolio, and artifact-based interviews.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Carnegie-Mellon University
United States
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