“A lot of times, in physics, it feels like you’re doing the lab for the lab’s sake, that you’re doing it for the grade and not for the science. You do this in robotics, and [students] stop thinking about the grade and they start thinking about all the crazy robots they can build. It’s inherently open-ended, and it’s real,” he said.

Stephan Turnipseed, the president of LEGO Education in North America, said the robotics program can be used to address community issues and help solve needs.

“We see a lot of teachers using robotics to engage in storytelling, which really has been interesting as it was an unexpected outcome,” he said.

However, engaging students is far from the only issue facing STEM education. According to the panel, many STEM teachers are not well trained, especially at the elementary level.

For more news on STEM education, see:

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

“There’s a huge need in elementary education for much better-prepared, skilled teachers, because if you have that and you can bring [good] math and science teachers in, the whole system is going to benefit,” said David Mandel, director of research and policy analysis with the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Abdallah agreed that a change is necessary.

“Teachers are ill prepared or unprepared by the universities, so it’s not their fault that they can’t do it,” she said.

“If you ask your average elementary school teacher if they’d like to teach robotics, they run screaming into the night,” Turnipseed said. “So we had to change our language.” He pointed out that when Smith teaches a programming course, he uses terminology designed to pique students’ curiosity, as opposed to confusing them with technical terms too early.