Does it "want" or "was it programmed to..."? Kindergarten children's explanations of an autonomous robot's adaptive functioning

Sharona T. Levy, David Mioduser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


This study investigates young children's perspectives in explaining a self-regulating mobile robot, as they learn to program its behaviors from rules. We explore their descriptions of a robot in action to determine the nature of their explanatory frameworks: psychological or technological. We have also studied the role of an adult's intervention in their reasoning. The study was conducted individually with six kindergarten children along five sessions that included tasks, ordered by increasing difficulty. We developed and used a robotic control interface. We have found that the children employed two modes of explanation: "engineering" mode focused on the technological building blocks which make up the robot's operation; "bridging" mode tended to combine and align two explanatory frameworks - technological and psychological. However, this was not consistent across tasks. In the easiest tasks, involving one condition-action rule, most of the children used a technological perspective. When the task became more difficult, most children shifted to a psychological perspective. Further experience in programming was associated with a shift to technological or combined explanatory frameworks. The results are discussed with respect to developmental literature on children's explanatory frameworks, and with regard to educational implications of incorporating such learning environments in early childhood classes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-359
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Design Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Explanatory framework
  • Preschool education
  • Programming
  • Robotics concepts
  • Technology education


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