ANT and robots:
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This study explores a robotics class of 24 second graders in a Title 1 elementary school located in the southeastern United States. Drawing on Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory and Bakhtin’s notion of hybridity, the findings show that learning about robotics has heterogeneous associations with material, human, and quasi-material/quasi-human actors. Using case study, data were derived from filmed videos, video-cued interviews with children, interviews with two enrichment class teachers, children’s activity logs, and children’s pre- and post-instruction drawings and writings about robots. This study identifies various actors that contributed to and constrained programming a robotic manipulative, a Bee-Bot. Bee-Bots are programmable floor robots encouraging children to program the robots by using directional commands, such as forward, backward, left, and right. The findings show that heterogeneous actors, including the use of activity logs, a bee shaped design and control system, use of simulation, abstract thinking, peer demonstrations, and teachers’ comments were associated with programming in the Bee-Bot route activity. In addition, the processes of problem identification and robot building with Cubelets were examined in order to understand how different roles of the children were negotiated and performed. Cubelets are magnetic robotic blocks enabling children to build their robots while learning about sensors and actuators. The findings show that problem identification and idea elaboration were intermingled with designing and building robots. Also, 24 participating children’s pre- and post-instruction drawings and writings about robots were investigated in order to understand children’s conceptualization of robots. Drawing on Bakhtin’s notion of hybridity, the children’s ideas about robots were hybridized through their experiences with robotic manipulatives, ideas from watching a video clip in the robotics class, and visual images from popular culture. Their drawings and writings showed that the functions and designs of robots became more personalized and sophisticated. The children’s conceptualization of robots blurred the boundaries between humans and machines. The findings suggest that we need more studies which take into consideration the various actors and their heterogeneous associations involved in learning about robotics.