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Math, social studies and writing — all from a lesson in robotics

About 30 teachers from Jackson County schools are getting an up-close look at robotics—and ways they are put to use outside the classroom.

The experience is part of an intensive five-day workshop, the Project RAFTSTEM Summer Institute, hosted by the University of Georgia colleges of education and engineering. The workshop is based at River's Crossing but also takes the educators to manufacturers around Athens that incorporate robotics in their process.

The idea, said College of Education professor Roger B. Hill of the Department of Career and Information Studies, is to show real-world applications for the technology that can be taught in schools.

"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."

The workshop's robotics activities are designed to support STEM learning, Hill added, with each site visit highlighting the use of robotics in the manufacturing process.

The workshop kicked off with a Monday morning drill involving a mock infectious disease scare, developed by faculty in the UGA College of Engineering. Participants first constructed robots and then used the morning's theme to program the robots through a series of tasks.

On the workshop's second day, teachers saw robots in action at two Athens-area manufacturers, Caterpillar and Eaton. At Caterpillar, company officials had participants don hard hats, safety vests and headsets to walk through the assembly and manufacturing areas, where robots are an integral part of the welding process.

Project RAFTSTEM wraps up with a third tour at Toyota Industries in nearby Pendergrass. In between visits, the educators will work on lesson plans involving robotics, collaborating and sharing ideas throughout the process.

This integration with the curriculum represents a new aspect of teaching robotics, said Hill. In the past, robotics was an after-school activity; but in Project RAFTSTEM, the educators developed lesson plans and learning materials that will involve robotics into class time, while also reinforcing elements of STEM, social studies and English/language arts.