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Jackson County teachers learn real-life robotics at STEM workshop

July 8, 2015


By Mike Wooten

Elementary and middle school teachers will learn how robotics can bring math and science concepts to life in their classrooms during a two-week workshop that begins July 13 at the University of Georgia.

The RAFTSTEM Summer Institute is part of Project RAFTSTEM – Robotics Activities for Teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. RAFTSTEM is a partnership between the UGA College of Engineering, the UGA College of Education and the Jackson County School System. Since 2004, UGA faculty have teamed with Jackson County educators to explore ways to enhance classroom learning in the STEM disciplines.

"Robotics is an excellent way for teachers to demonstrate practical applications for seemingly mundane mathematical formulas and other concepts," said Tim Foutz, a professor in the College of Engineering. "We want this workshop to enhance the teachers' knowledge of math and science while giving them confidence to introduce hands-on problem-solving exercises to their students."

Foutz says Project RAFTSTEM is not simply focused on capturing students' attention by teaching them to assemble robots but on how students learn and apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles. He says the goal of the initiative is to help teachers infuse robotics into classroom instruction to increase student achievement in math and science.

"During this workshop and through the RAFTSTEM program, we want teachers to gain a solid foundation in the logical structure of robotics programs," said Foutz. "The logic involved in creating a robotics program can be applied to any number of math and science exercises in the classroom. For example, programming logic is closely related to the logic used to solve an algebra problem."

Foutz says the "cool factor" involved with robotics doesn't hurt, either. If students are excited and motivated by classroom lessons featuring robots, he says they're more likely to participate in class and understand the information. He also believes students will be more likely to consider additional STEM courses and begin to consider STEM-related careers.

Nearly three dozen elementary and middle school teachers from the Jackson County School System are expected to attend the RAFTSTEM Summer Institute.

Roger B. Hill, a professor in the College of Education's Department of Career and Information Studies, said the workshop will blend curriculum with real-world application of robotics technology.

"While some of the ideas for this project grew out of the robotics activities I have been doing with elementary education majors, this is a true collaboration between faculty and Jackson County Schools," said Hill. "The workshop builds on more than a decade of math and science partnership projects with Jackson County Schools, and teachers will be involved in curriculum development using materials created by College of Education faculty."

In addition to intensive, hands-on exercises and curriculum development, the teachers participating in the workshop will visit three Athens-area manufacturers to learn how robotics are used in industry. They're scheduled to visit Caterpillar and Eaton in Athens July 14 and Toyota Industries in Pendergrass July 21.

In addition to Hill and Foutz, the RAFTSTEM leadership team includes AnnaMarie Conner, an associate professor in the College of Education's Department of Mathematics and Science Education, and Sid Thompson, a professor in the College of Engineering.

UGA faculty will conduct follow-up workshops with the Jackson County teachers throughout the upcoming academic year. A research component of the project will attempt to determine if the teachers have shown improvement in content knowledge and efficacy, as well as whether students are participating in hands-on STEM activities and whether they demonstrate technological fluency.