Outreach Activities

Maja J Matarić


I am motivated to share my enthusiasm and passion for the creative opportunities that engineering provides with pre-university K-12 students, and to use robotics, my own field of expertise, as a tool to illustrate how interesting engineering can be. I enjoy presenting these principles to various stakeholder audiences, from K-12 students, to teachers, to members of the media, to the entertainment industry. I am also committed to making robotics accessible to students of all ages. In outreach, my emphasis is on K-12 students, in particular under-represented groups (girls especially, who tend to miss out on how fun robotics can be), in the middle-school age group, with a goal of introducing robotics as early as elementary school. I believe that hands-on experiential learning through the use of robotics as a tool and topic is a great way for students to gain interest and knowledge in engineering in general, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computational thinking in particular.

The following are my recent and ongoing outreach activities:

  • Leading the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Adopt-a-School, Adopt-a-Teacher (VAST) K-12 STEM outreach program.

  • Leading (with Prof. Gigi Ragusa) the NSF-supported middle school teacher development program "Societally Relevant Engineering Technologies Research: A Research Experience for Teachers Site (SRET-RET)".

  • Co-leading the NSF-supported "Body Engineering Los Angeles (BE-LA) GK-12", an outreach and development program that matches middle school science teachers and Viterbi School PhD students for.

  • A free robotics programming workbook with illustrated exercises and solutions, available on the web: http://roboticsprimer.sourceforge.net. The workbook exercises are designed for the low-cost iRobot Create and Roomba platforms. The workbook provides three different programming environments and a variety of add-on sensor options. The workbook is a stand-alone generally accessible resource for students at all levels (university and K-12), educators (university and K-12) and hobbyists. It is written to dovetail with my "The Robotics Primer" textbook for the same audience, available from MIT Press.

  • Curricular materials for a 6th grade hands-on robotics course and an 8th grade robotics-based science class, developed in collaboration with two LA middle school teachers and with the support of an NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement award. All materials are found here. We also developed a resource web site for K-12 teachers.

  • Curricular materials for an in-class and after-school middle school robotics program, set up at and in partnership with Foshay Learning Center, during July 2005-June 2006; it involved school visits, teacher training, and providing permanent resources (robot kits and lesson plans) for the program, supported by the USC Neighborhood Outreach Grant for "Hands-on Robotics for Enhancing Middle-School STEM Education and Increasing Participation of Under-Represented Students". Look here for more information. Here is a nice article about the program.

  • Curricular materials for an after-school elementary school robotics program, set up at and in partnership with St. Agnes Elementary School, during July 2006-June 2007; it involved school visits, teacher training, and providing permanent resources (robot kits and lesson plans) for the after-school program, supported by the USC Neighborhood Outreach Grant for "Hands-on Robotics for Enhancing Elementary-School STEM Education and Increasing Participation of Under-Represented Students". Look here for more information. The all-girls robotics club went on to the state-level competition in their first year of the program!

  • Annual summer robotics course in South Pasadena, in collaboration with the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF) and the South Pasadena School District (SPUSD), and working with elementray and middle school science teachers, supported by the NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement awards, from 2008 annually and ongoing. The annual program consists of USC PhD students training K-12 teachers in robotics, who then deliver the month-long summer robotics course for 5th-7th graders. This has been come an established annual course. The goal is to motivate the teachers to also transition the materials from the summer courses into their STEM in-class curricular materials, as well as to encourage the establishment of a year-round robotics clubs for middle and high school students. The course uses the Robotics Primer and LEGO Mindstorm NXT kits. Here is a nice South Pasadena Review article about the 1st year of the program.

  • Robotics exercises for the 2nd grade and 4-5th grade science modules, developed by teachers at the Monterey Hills School, with support of the NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement award, in 2010. The teaching materials are found here.

  • Annual USC Robotics Open House during the National Robotics Week in April of each year. The event is free and open to the public, and provides an opportunity to see real cutting-edge research robots and talk with robotics researchers: undergraduate and PhD students and faculty at USC.

  • Annual robotics assemblies at Monterey Hills Elementary School. Started in 2003 and continues as an annual event (celebrating a decade in 2013!). The assemblies feature interactions with various fun and instructive robots from the Interaction Lab, and involve PhD students as role models to the school children. The assemblies are given to all grades in the school, K-5, usually in April. Here are some photos from the 2012 assemblies.

  • A web portal with free information, materials, and links for K-12 robotics activities, drawn from the activities listed above and other K-12 outreach done in my Interaction Lab.

    The following are my publications covering some of my work in robotics for K-12 STEM education:

  • Maja J. Matarić, Juan Fasola, and David J. Feil-Seifer, "Robotics as a tool for immersive, hands-on freshmen engineering instruction", Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition Pittsburgh, PA, Jul 2008. [PDF]

  • Maja J Matarić, Nathan Koenig, and David Feil-Seifer, "Materials for Enabling Hands-On Robotics and STEM Education", AAAI Spring Symposium on Robots and Robot Venues: Resources for AI Education, Palo Alto, CA, Mar 2007. [PDF]

  • Maja J Matarić, "Robotics Education for All Ages", Proceedings, AAAI Spring Symposium on Accessible, Hands-on AI and Robotics Education, Palo Alto, CA, Mar 22-24, 2004. [PDF]

    I welcome helpful suggestions and new outreach opportunities.


    Go to Maja's home page.
    Go to the Interaction Lab home page.
    Mail comments to webmaster@robotics.usc.edu.