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CCU professors receive grant to train Marion County teachers in robotics

March 22, 2016
CCU Robotics Professors

A team of Coastal Carolina University education and science professors will lead an initiative to train middle school teachers in Marion County to teach robotics as part of the county’s math and science curriculum, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.

The purpose of the 18-month project is to integrate technology into the curriculum of a high-needs category school district, advancing the state mandate to provide more instruction in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Approximately 20 Marion County teachers are expected to participate. The centerpiece of the initiative is a set of five-day workshops that will be held in the summers of 2016 and 2017.

Only 30 percent of Marion County middle and high school students are scoring at proficient levels for mathematics and only 38 percent for science, according to recent statistics. Only 63 percent of Marion County seniors graduate from high school. With an 82 percent free and reduced lunch rate and a dropout rate of 6.8 percent, the county school district falls in the high-needs category. (A district is considered high needs when at least 45 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches.)

The ultimate aim of the program, according to the CCU team, is to equip teachers to train middle school students to think critically and become engaged in practical problem solving.

“Traditional educational practices involve passive listening in lecture formats, focusing on single answers to questions rather than exploring multiple possibilities,” says Patricia Jones, director of program evaluation and accreditation in CCU’s Spadoni College of Education and team leader of the project. “Robotics provide a more collaborative environment in which students learn to use textbook knowledge to solve hands-on, three-dimensional problems. This experiential approach to learning is known to improve students’ motivation and retention.”

Participating middle school teachers from Marion County schools will each receive a Lego robotics kit, a Dell computer and a stipend. As part of the five-day workshop, teachers will be required to develop a minimum of two lesson plans related to their content area in science or math. All lesson plans and ideas will be incorporated into a “best practices” web portal for future classroom teachers interested in pursuing robotics. All teachers will receive three hours of professional development graduate credit from CCU.

In addition to Jones, members of the CCU team are Louis J. Rubbo, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Corey Lee, assistant professor of instructional technology; Joe Winslow, professor of instructional technology; Alex Fegely, lecturer in instructional technology; and Bryan Lemon, teaching associate in computing sciences. The team also includes Blake Vaught, a computer science teacher at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in Myrtle Beach; Brooke Sullivan, a fifth-grade teacher at Forestbrook Elementary; and Diane Sullivan, a third-grade teacher at Carolina Forest Elementary School.