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Robots help change learning in Honduras

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Outreach,   RAIL Lab,   Service and Community,   Spotlight

The Robotics curriculum created by University of Georgia researchers is about to become a little more global.

A new partnership between faculty in the UGA College of Education's Research and Innovation in Learning lab, or RAIL, and educators in Honduras plans to bring a robotics curriculum to schools in rural parts of the Central American country. Ikseon Choi, a professor in the College of Education's department of career and innovation studies, met with officials in the country earlier this fall and made plans to introduce the curriculum to teachers there this spring.

Children learning from a robot This is a chance to bring a global education to children in areas that would normally not have that opportunity, said Choi, and also help expand the ability for students around the world to connect using this technology.

"We believe we are part of an interdependent global community. We wish to strengthen that community by working together on global issues such as sustainable development and empowerment through education," said Choi. "Our ultimate goal is to get children from different countries together in a collaborative space where they can communicate about shared interests, develop deeper understanding of each other, and build friendships through exciting shared experiences such as robotics. This project will help children in Honduras get connected with children in other countries."

The curriculum, created by RAIL researchers, is available as an open-educational resource, which keeps costs down for schools. The team also works with schools to identify ways to help reduce the financial burden of obtaining computers and robotics. For example, the team partnered with a private tech start-up working in Tanzania to launch a robotics program in a few schools there.

It's important for the curriculum to be sustainable, added Choi, so it can be a long-term solution for educators there.

Another aspect of the curriculum that makes it unique is the way it integrates with other subjects being taught, as well as how it can relate to real-world problems faced by the students. For example, in Tanzania, students were challenged to build the robots and then program them to drive to a remote area, mapped out on grids in their classroom, to fix a water pipe. Because the problem of supplying fresh drinking water is one already faced by their community, it was a scenario the students could immediately relate with and understand the need for a solution.

Between building the robots, working on computers to develop students' engineering abilities or learning about geography or ecosystems as part of mapping a robot's route, the curriculum easily dovetails with other lessons the students are learning. And the curriculum is easily scalable, allowing teachers to implement it for a couple weeks or a couple months, depending on the schedule.

"Students not only learn the contents of subjects such as computers, coding, engineering, technology and mathematics, but they also learn how to solve problems by applying all of these disciplines in an integrated way," added Choi. "Students will engage in problem-solving strategies like communicating with stakeholders, identifying and defining problems, having ownership of the problem and generating solutions."

The experience also helps motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM fields—which is essential for a country's economic development and growth.

In Honduras, Choi teamed up with Funazucar, a non-profit educational organization there, to help make connections with the country's Ministry of Education and visit two schools—Claudio Barrera School and C.B. Jose Rivera Paz School. He plans to return in the spring to provide teacher workshops and help in implementing the curriculum.

"Technology is a basic literacy for today's society," he said. "Through experiences like the robotics curriculum, the potential of children in rural areas of Honduras can be discovered and fully revealed. This will benefit not only these students, but our entire global community."

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