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We face worrying trends: technology becomes more ubiquitous, yet engineering enrollments continue to fall, and women continue to be significantly underrepresented in these disciplines. Robotics has been an outstanding vehicle for helping draw young students to the magic of science and engineering, particularly with national programs such as FIRST, Botball, and BEST. Yet, these existing programs are intense, short term, and competition focused, which, we hypothesize, may be hindering participant diversity. We have aimed to design a technological fluency program called Robot Diaries that is driven instead by strong social narrative that has deep meaning to the students. Robot Diaries enables students in middle school to build completely new robots from craft materials and then animate these physical robots with emotional expressions that can be shared with their friends and their friends' robots over the Internet. Ultimately, Robot Diaries provides a unique stage for expressing aesthetic design, sharing emotions and ideas, and promoting technological fluency. We describe the multiple, parallel design efforts that constitute Robot Diaries.
Date of Publication: March 2009