What started as a tool to help fifth-graders in Georgia develop problem-solving skills through robotics has now gained a foothold in multiple countries—most recently, in Central America.
Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Education's RAIL Lab have recently wrapped up visits to Honduras. They were invited by the Funazúcar foundation to meet with local educators and develop a plan to implement the STEM-integrated robotics curriculum in public schools.
Through a three-day professional development workshop, the researchers provided training to 15 teachers serving 120 students in five schools. Now that they have received the training, the teachers are empowered to pass on that knowledge to others, creating a sustainable model to grow the reach of the robotics curriculum throughout the schools.
"It was absolutely wonderful to see the teachers and the Funazúcar team taking ownership of the lessons and curriculum, being creative with the lessons and referring to the production and transportation of sugar cane to create relevant context," said Enid Truong, a graduate student in the UGA College of Education's learning, design and technology program. "This is just the first step into what the teachers and students can accomplish together based on the dedication and passion I observed."
The robotics curriculum has the unique ability to adapt to the local culture and experiences of the students. This makes the lessons more easily understood by the children, because it puts the lessons into a context they immediately understand. For example, in Honduras, the sugar industry plays a large role in the lives of the students. So, with that in mind, educators framed the lesson plan to revolve around the industry—for example, transporting the sugar cane to the factories.
By presenting the lessons in a context the students could easily understand, it helped support the development of their problem-solving abilities, said Ikseon Choi, director of RAIL and a professor in the College of Education's department of career and information studies. The curriculum is available as an open-educational resource for teachers to download for free from the RAIL website and has been translated into five languages. The RAIL team has also worked with educators in Tanzania, Haiti and China to introduce the curriculum.
"Through experiences like the robotics curriculum, the potential of children in rural areas of Honduras can be discovered and fully revealed," said Choi. "This will benefit not only these students but our entire global community."
The experience also benefitted graduate students at UGA, who worked with teachers, students, and Funazúcar staff to help them learn the curriculum. "We had the chance to explore and experience at a much deeper level than we ever could in the classroom," said SeJung Kwon, a graduate student in learning, design and technology. Through the workshop, the teacher walked the fifth- and sixth-graders through the lessons, allowing them to experience moments of frustration when their solution didn't work as planned or when they realized their robot had to be reconstructed. But at the end of the day, each group proudly displayed what they had accomplished.
RAIL researchers will continue to work with Funazúcar to implement and adapt the STEM-integrated curriculum and reach more teachers and students. The project aligns with the larger goals of RAIL, which is to solve global educational challenges through sustainable solutions and educational empowerment. Eventually, said Choi, the goal is to connect students in different countries through an online platform, allowing them the opportunity to connect and problem-solve internationally.
"This is just the first step into what the teachers and students can accomplish together, and with the dedication and passion that I observed from the people we worked with, I know that there are many great educational happenings to come," said Truong. "I really believe that we all learned from each other—'we' referring to the UGA research team, the Funazúcar team and the teachers and students. Together, we can continue working toward providing the children of today with the opportunity of equal education so they can dream for tomorrow."