Teachers from throughout Jefferson County and some from surrounding areas are ready to teach their K-12 students about the field of robotics thanks to their participation in a summer program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff July 9-20.
UAPB Math and Science Center director Shelton Fitzpatrick and UAPB Industrial Technology instructor Felicia Webb hosted the Summer Institute on Robotics for 29 instructors made possible because of a $77,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
“Robotics is an important field for our students to understand and schools in the northern part of Arkansas have already established robotics programs,” Fitzpatrick said Friday. “This institute is the first time that a robotics program has been done in the southern part of the state.”
Webb is excited about the potential for getting young people hooked on science using the study of robots.
“Our students are behind in science and engineering,” Webb said. “Our purpose in developing a robotics program is to inspire the kids in the fields of science and mathematics. This will prepare them for academic challenges. We want to inspire them in the early grades so that they will continue to build on their knowledge in the later grades.”
Webb said that there are competitive robotics events that allow students from kindergarten through 12th grade to participate.
Fitzpatrick believes that teaching robotics is a good way to introduce students to subjects that many of them don’t immediately appreciate.
“Robotics excites students,” Fitzpatrick said. “It gets them interested in science and mathematics. It brings all of these concepts together.”
Teachers become students
The teachers were divided up into teams and the teams were given a robot that they had to assemble and then program to run a course that included picking up a red ball and placing it in a box.
The robots are manufactured by Lego and move around on two large rubber tires in front and a small pivoting rear wheel.
The teachers learned how to program their robots to navigate the course and to pick up the ball, a process which involved entering a code into a laptop computer.
“We had to take the robots that had been created by the earlier group and then take them apart before reassembling them and learning how each part works,” said Yvette Hammond, an instructor at Watson Chapel Junior High School.
Hammond patiently explained the function of each component on her team’s robot, named ‘Mimi’ by her group.
“The robot’s eyes use infrared to tell it when it is getting close to something,” Hammond said. “At the bottom of the robot there is a light sensor that the robot uses to follow a black line that guides it. There is also a microphone.”
Candace Wilson is a sixth grade teacher at Sheridan Middle School and also serves on the science steering committee of the Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative.
“When we teach our students how to build and program these robots, they will be learning the scientific and mathematical concepts that make up the Common Core standards that we are required to teach,” Wilson said. “By implementing a robotics program in the schools, the students will learn how to work in collaboration with each other to engage in problem solving and critical thinking.”
Kathleen Mitchell teaches special needs students at Watson Chapel High School.
“The kids I work with are great on computers and can really put parts together so this robotics program will be great for them,” Mitchell said.