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Partnership brings robotics lab to new Barrow school

Kristen B. Morales

September 23, 2014

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new technology-focused high school in Barrow County on Sept. 3 also ushered in the next phase of a partnership between the University of Georgia and the Barrow County School System.

Outfitted with robotics kits from leading South Korea manufacturer RoboRobo, a room in the new Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology in Winder will serve as an external UGA laboratory. Here, researchers from the College of Education will work with local teachers to develop robotics-based lesson plans for all grades, all supported by RoboRobo. This outreach program builds on a partnership formed earlier this year between the company and Ikseon Choi, an associate professor in the College's learning, design and technology program.

Robotics and faculty

"Through the Robotics Education Center at Sims, teachers will participate in workshops and receive training on how to best integrate robotics education into their classrooms as early as elementary school," said Barrow County Schools Superintendent Chris McMichael during opening remarks on Wednesday. "Students will be able to learn about robotics, showcase their own robotics creations, and even engage in robotics competitions at the Robotics Education Center."

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who closed the ribbon-cutting event by reading a proclamation honoring the namesake of Sims Academy, LaFar Dupree Sims, noted the connection between the innovative lessons taking place at the school and the future of Georgia's economy. "We have an opportunity today where kids can come and leave with a certificate that gives them a job making twice as much as a high school graduate," said Cagle. "These are the choices and opportunities we have, but only if we in the community do our part to develop the curriculum. This is a game-changer. This is what the future of education is about."

Robotics and faculty

Following the ribbon cutting, the crowd of about 200 explored the school, with kids of all ages crowding around two tables in the Robotics Education Center to take turns driving the wheeled robots, each about the size of a tennis shoe. At one point, a second-grader introduced himself to RoboRobo CEO Jang Chang Nam, who was on hand for the ceremony, to thank him for the chance to build his own robot. His class was one of several to receive kits donated by the company earlier this year. Nam smiled as more kids crowded the tables, occasional exclamations of "This is awesome!" coming from the group.

Eventually, the crowd will be filled with school-aged robotics competitors, where kids can put their RoboRobo skills into action. But they will also learn about real-life applications of robots at the same time, said Choi, and the Sims lab provides a unique opportunity to customize lesson plans and research the results.

"Barrow County will be the first place where we implement the curriculum for teachers and students as well," he said. "We're integrating theory and practice—here is a place where the researcher can share with the teacher, and the curriculum can be customized with the teacher."

Jack Parish, associate dean for outreach and engagement at the College of Education, said the ability to work with RoboRobo and Barrow County is a unique opportunity to merge research opportunities with curriculum ideas.

"This partnership will help teachers integrate robotics education in their classrooms in ways that provide meaningful and engaging learning experiences for their students," said Parish. "We are very appreciative of the opportunity to partner with Barrow County Schools and RoboRobo in this exciting work and research."