OCtech Workshop Gives Teachers Tools for Using Robotics in the Classroom

Photo of summer robotics camp for teachers
Stephanie Phillips, right, Project Lead the Way instructor and program coordinator at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, assists teachers with programming their robots during the VEX Robotics Professional Development Workshop at OCtech.

Teams of elementary, middle and high school teachers connected metal parts, tinkered with wires, wheels, sensors and gears, and programmed controllers during the VEX Robotics Professional Development Workshop at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

The workshop was held June 20-23 in the Mechatronics lab on campus. Educators from as far away as Georgetown gathered to learn more about ways to incorporate robotics into their STEM curriculum.

Additionally, the teachers built robots to perform a variety of tasks, from grabbing soda cans and transporting them to a receptacle to picking up a ball and shooting it over a “wall.”

Aronda Frasier, a math teacher at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, said she had never built or programmed a robot before attending the workshop.

“I have learned so much and done more than I ever thought I would,” she said. “I had a brief overview of robotics last year and fell in love with it. I saw it as something my students would love because it’s engaging and hands-on. This year, I’ll be teaching geometry and pre-calculus, and when we looked at the state education standards, I was thrilled to see just how many of my curriculum standards are correlated to robotics. This is something I will be able to implement in my classroom.”

Shanna Ayer is teaching eighth-grade science next year at Bamberg-Ehrhardt Middle School. She said teaching science lends itself to hands-on activities, and robotics will be just one more way for her to teach core concepts. She hopes to start a robotics club at the school to get kids interested in the field.

“Our world is moving toward technology, and we need kids who are proficient in those skills,” she said. “Programming brings in the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need. They have to learn how to collaborate and be team players. You have to be able to listen to everybody’s ideas and willing to share your own ideas, and if you run into a problem, you have to be able to work it out.

“It’s about more than just robotics. It’s going to get them career-ready.”

Sharie Quattlebaum, lower school assistant administrator and science lab instructor at Calhoun Academy, agreed.

“To me, the most challenging part was the coding and programming, and trying to get the robot to do what you want it to do,” she said. “We ran into many problems, and we had to backtrack and persevere through them and fix the problems. Kids these days, if they run into a problem, they often get frustrated and want to quit. When you do run into a problem and finally solve it, it’s such a great feeling.

“We’ve also tied a lot of math into it, calculating the diameter and circumference of a wheel in order to go a certain distance. There are a lot of different ways to make a whole unit out of it, incorporating science, math and reading – there’s so much you can do with it.”

Linda Payne, special projects and grant developer at OCtech, said the VEX Robotics Professional Development Workshop was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. There was a lot of interest in the workshop, she said, and participants received a stipend and recertification credits.

“Our hope is that the teachers will take this back to their schools and start building an implementation program to engage their students to better prepare them for emerging STEM careers,” she said. “We want to encourage students at a younger age to become comfortable with STEM, to be interested and engaged.”

The next step for many of the educators is to secure funding to introduce robotics into their school and curriculum, Payne said.

“We have been brainstorming, visiting different websites and talking about how you go out and talk to business and industry for possible funding. We talked about getting a presentation together for school boards. We’re trying to give them something to build on,” she said. “Robotics is expensive, so we’ve encouraged them to think about starting small, maybe with a club at first to build interest in it, and get parents and parent organizations involved.

“I’ve been impressed with how engaged the teachers have been and how interested they all are in learning about robotics.”

OCtech will also host two VEX Robotics camps for students in July as part of the NSF grant.