The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Inspiring Students with Inquiry-Guided Learning

Featured Instructors: 

Denise Szecsei, Ph.D., lecturer in math and computer science


Improve student motivation and understanding with inquiry-guided learning.


  • Promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and team-work skills
  • Builds student interest and motivation
  • Improves student understanding


Denise Szecsei uses interdisciplinary, inquiry-guided learning to promote authentic learning. By allowing her students to identify problems and solutions as part of their efforts to program robots to perform artistically, she encourages higher order thinking skills, such as application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.   

00:00 – 00:32

Teaching is most effective when students learn what they want to learn in a way that resonates for them. So I like students to ask questions that they want to get the answers to. I want them to investigate, to be inspired, to push their boundaries, to not want to stop when the bell rings or when class is over.

00:32 – 00:55

About a year and a half ago, my department chair talked to me about the prospect of getting humanoid robots to teach a class in dance and computer science. And so Alberto Segre and George de la Pena, who is the chair of the dance department, wrote an initial grant to get funding for these five humanoid robots that we have.

00:55 – 01:11

So the first class that we offered was called dancing robots, and that was a collaboration between the computer science and the dance department. The second class was called robot theater. And so now we've just put everything under the umbrella of Performing Robots.

01:11 – 01:35

The first day of the class the students had their hands on the robots and we broke up into two groups and each group had the robot performing a dance. The course was designed so that it's completely hands on, so the students come into the class and we have the robots set up, and the class comes together to discuss what they envision to make the robots do for that day.

01:35 – 01:58

Our goal is to actually draw out emotions from the audience: make it an emotional connection. The robots’ facial expressions can't change and so having the robots exhibit sadness or happiness or something like that is a challenge. So we have to use body motion, body movement, posture.

01:58 – 02:23

And performing artists are very familiar with how to convey emotion. Even though it's not a networking class per se, the students wanted the robots to be able to pass messages back and forth, and so we had to create a network. Well, the students were inspired to do that not because I came to them and said “hey, let's do this; let's learn a little bit about networking.” The students came to me and said “Hey we need to learn about networking.”

02:23 – 02:49

So we have the students working together to share their skillsets and make a better overall performance. So everybody learns: the CS students learn from the dance and the performing artists and the performing artists learn how to code and they actually program the robots as well. The students actually learned how to learn in this class.

02:49 – 03:23

STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, so the debate is between STEM and STEAM is that we want our Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Technology courses to prepare our students for working out and in technical fields. But actually problem-solving resembles the Arts more than it resembles the Sciences because when you're solving some of these new problems you have to think outside the box and come at things from a creative perspective.

03:23 – 03:58

The students are engaged. The students don't want to end the class. So one class last semester was supposed to only go on for 50 minutes. And my students kept me three hours every night, and so I actually had to stop and say, “It's time to end because I have to catch my bus.” So being able to work with students and have that flexibility to let them bring what they've learned into the mix, I think that empowers them, makes them see that their contribution is valuable, and it gets them more invested in the process.