The Research behind Expedition Atlantis

The Robot Algebra Project

The Robot Algebra Project is an ongoing research and development project conducted by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC). The team proposes to develop tools for informal education which when implemented effectively will significantly increase middle school age students’ algebraic reasoning skills.

Our target math concept is teaching proportional reasoning, and we used a rolling robot’s straight and turning movements to introduce students to measurement, scale, rate, and conversion of Units math concepts.

Over the course of the eight year project, the team has observed many teachers that say that they were using robotics to teach mathematics, but we found that few actually foregrounded the robot math in ways that were effective and many teachers avoided talking about mathematics at all. We are learning that in order for teachers to effectively use robotics to teach robot math that they need to foreground the math, talk about it, and measure it before they begin to teach students how to program their robots. We’ve observed that when teachers tried to teach both concepts, the robot math and the robot programming, at the same time that many students were confused and we were not able to measure significant learning gains. This project developed multiple strategies designed to enable teachers to foreground the mathematics in their robotics classrooms and they can be found here:

  1. Abstraction Bridges -
  2. The Robots In Motion Cognitive Curriculum Example –
  3. And, the Expedition Atlantis, a Calculated Deep Sea Underwater Adventure -
  4. Robot Virtual World Math Tools -


The team has given numerous presentations and written papers on “Teaching Robot Math” and they can be reviewed at:


Project Responsibilities

CMU was responsible for designing the units and the support materials, the LRDC was responsible for testing and evaluation, the team worked together to develop strategies to improve the product.

The Robots In Motion (RIM) Cognitive Tutored Curriculum

The full curriculum is hosted online at the CMU’s Computer Science Student Network,  This was our teams first shot at developing a comprehensive solution to address student and teacher needs.

The curriculum consisted of three units that contained concepts that became progressively more difficult; the units used a robotics context and taught students about measuring straight distances and angles, proportional distances and proportional turns, and proportional rates. The units used a hybrid approach that involved a combination of Model Eliciting Activities and a cognitive tutor to guide students.

This approach proved promising, and we learned a lot about pacing and requiring teachers to foreground the mathematics, but because it was difficult to load onto school computers and the cognitive tutor was Flash dependent and the development team wanted to make sure that their work was compatible with iPads, tables, and phones we chose to use the Unity Game Development platform.