Middle Tennessee public school teachers learn how to use robotics to fulfill Common Core

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Teachers from Marshall, Robertson and Davidson counties work to build a doodler robot.

Doodling robots, robotic fingers, electrical circuits, gear games, computer programming and mixing chemicals are all activities that 12 teachers from Davidson, Marshall and Robertson counties will engage in June 26-28 at the STEER workshop at Lipscomb University.

STEER (STEM Training for Engineering Educators using Robotics) is a new teacher in-service workshop, sponsored by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, to train teachers in how to use robots, engineering techniques and a wide array of hands-on activities to get students excited about science and to fulfill Common Core State Standards, new national education standards that have been adopted by the state of Tennessee.

Workshop coordinators Greg Nordstrom and Ginger Reasonover, who have overseen seven years of grant-winning summer robotics camps at Lipscomb, will guide teachers through various in-classroom projects that exemplify the science and engineering concepts instilled in robots and their mechanics.

Get students excited about robots, and they will be excited about science and engineering, said Reasonover. “This workshop provides the teachers with everything they need to use these projects in their classroom immediately, and each project relates to the world around them,” she said.

On the high-tech side, teachers will use small, yellow fire-hydrant-shaped robots that roll along a designated path to see how students can learn to calculate distance and speed. But they will also use a simple hand egg beater in a whipping cream contest to show the increased value a simple gear provides over a spoon or a whisk.

A robotic arm will mix “chemicals” to show how robots keep humans safe in dangerous professions, and teachers will learn interactive games to teach the concepts of computer programming and analysis of data.

The STEER workshop will provide projects in four distinct age groups: K-2nd grade, third through fifth grade, middle school and high school, matching the Next Generation Science Standards, another set of national standards that many states have adopted, said Nordstrom. Teachers will also get a guide showing how each project meets the requirements of both the Common Core State Standards and the New Generation Science Standards, both of which bring new requirements to include engineering concepts in K-12 education.

“In addition we looked at the evaluation system for Tennessee public school teachers, and we will show them how each exercise covers a requirement within their evaluation. So if they are fulfilling Common Core and their evaluation requirements, they are providing a better education overall for their students,” Nordstrom said.

Seven years ago, Lipscomb University’s Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering began a robotics camp for a couple of dozen middle schoolers. The hands-on style proved popular with tinkering youngsters and this year the college will hold six camps for grades K-12 with more than 150 campers expected.

The College of Engineering’s summer robotics camps have proven so valuable to students that they have been awarded more than $160,000 from Nissan in the past few years.

Four years ago, Bailey STEM Magnet Middle School invited Nordstrom and Reasonover to create some robotics activities for their robotics lab. That partnership led to robotics camps on-site at Bailey and involvement with the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, which is funded by federal Race to the Top grants and charged with providing innovative STEM education ideas and resources for Middle Tennessee’s K-12 schools.

Nordstrom and Reasonover represent Lipscomb as members of the Council of Partners for the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub.