Collaborative Research: SaTC: EDU: RoCCeM: Bringing Robotics, Cybersecurity and Computer Science to the Middle School Classroom

Cybersecurity education is crucial to training, developing skills, and improving awareness. This is particularly true at a young age, given the increasing societal relevance of computers and the Internet. There is a great need for computational thinking to adequately understand key concepts in cybersecurity, as well as offer a powerful lens on computation as a whole. To address this need and opportunity, this project will develop a scalable, accessible curriculum engaging middle school students to improve recruitment and retention in cybersecurity and computer science. The primarily project-based curriculum will focus on block-based programming of robots, spanning computing and cybersecurity. Key cybersecurity principles will be introduced in a social context involving human-to-human communication challenges, then mapped to technical skills using a collaborative, virtual robotics platform. Students can connect computational challenges with interpersonal situations, becoming familiar with the foundations of cybersecurity and preparing themselves for responsible social interactions online.

The project will produce sorely-needed K-12 cybersecurity educational materials that are engaging, rigorous, and relevant to current cybersecurity trends. Making such trends and corresponding security strategies concrete, accessible, and relevant for middle school students with little to no background in programming is a significant challenge. The team will develop a 9-week modular curriculum spanning computing fundamentals and block-based programming, network communication, introductory cybersecurity concepts, and cooperative cybersecurity challenges. The project will ground cybersecurity principles in human-human interactions so that young learners can understand the key concepts in cybersecurity that are fundamental to interactions that occur in the outside the classroom. The project will have broad impact by providing an engaging environment and rigorous tasks to raise students' interest in cybersecurity, computing and robotics, and by flattening the learning curve required to engage with hands-on cybersecurity through an intuitive block-based language. After pilot testing in multiple schools, the project will provide a clear path to scale up to state-wide implementation in Tennessee.

Award Number
Lead PI
Kevin Leach
Akos Ledeczi, Corey Brady