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Robotics is elementary

July 2, 2015

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Barrow County fifth-graders got their first taste of a robotics competition in early June thanks to a collaboration between the school district, the University of Georgia College of Education and the South Korean company RoboRobo.

The RoboRobo Robotics Competition, the first of its kind for the school district, was a way to tie together the newly implemented robotics curriculum into one big event, said Lee Bane, STEAM integration specialist for the Barrow County School System.

The school district has been working with educational researchers at the College of Education, who developed the fifth-grade lesson plans in robotics. Using kits from RoboRobo, the students spent a portion of the past spring semester building and learning to program them.

"All eight elementary schools and the teachers in the fifth grade had been working with the robotics curriculum with their students, so we were looking forward to some kind of culminating event to solidify and recognize the kids' and the teachers' work," said Bane. "A competition like this is just a great way to do it, and they were all engaged and excited."

Bane worked with Brian Way, dissemination specialist, with the college's new initiative, Research for the Advancement of Innovative Learning (RAIL, http://rail.coe.uga.edu/), to coordinate the event. The RAIL research team first developed the robotics curriculum, and in December hosted a workshop for teachers on building and programming the robots. The career and information studies department, which houses RAIL, also coordinated with RoboRobo to provide prizes for the competition—$750 worth of robotics kits for the winning teams.

RoboRobo also outfitted the robotics lab at Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology in Winder, which hosted the competition.

But before the big event took place, each class hosted its own qualifying round. Students formed teams of two and competed using a similar assignment to what they had already completed in class—programming the robot to drive through a grid and make specific stops along the way. Teams were scored and the top groups from each class went on to the district-wide competition.

Way said of the 13 teams who competed at Sims Academy, three hit all their collection sites and went home with trophies and their own robots. First place went to Logan Thayer and Brycen Knight of Holsenbeck Elementary School, second place went to Wes Hubbard and Braeden Smith of Auburn Elementary School, and third place went to Colin Eakin and Ian Copeland of Yargo Elementary School.

"The kids absolutely loved it," said Way. "There was so much excitement; it was a pleasant surprise to have the room that full."

The Sims robotics lab was almost too small once you included teachers, parents, and others who came for the event. There were also Barrow County high school students on hand to talk about their own national robotics competition experience, showing the fifth-graders the robots they built and videos of their time there.

Barrow's robotics competition was designed in the vein of an after-school club, said Bane. But because transportation and other factors can sometimes keep students from participating in an after-school activity, he was able to integrate it into classwork to allow as many kids as possible to participate.

As a result, they had an overwhelming response from the students, as well as a large gathering for the competition—which took place after school had ended for the summer, at a time when parents could come too. "We built this as a way for us to set up a structure that's in the school day, and made it more accessible to a wider population of students," Bane added.

With such a successful event, Bane and Way said they plan to make it a twice-annual competition, with the long-range plan to bring in other grades at different times of the year. "We have some great programs in our high school, and we're just building acknowledgment of these programs at a much younger age," added Bane.