Arkansas educators bring robotics to life at STEM workshop

A dozen Arkansas middle and high school teachers spent a day on the other side of the classroom learning how to build and program robots as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professional development workshop at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

A dozen Arkansas middle and high school teachers spent a day on the other side of the classroom learning how to build and program robots as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professional development workshop at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Parallax Inc., the maker of ActivityBot 360 robot, and UA Little Rock’s STEM Education Center hosted the free one-day workshop on Aug. 2, where Arkansas educators learned how to build the ActivityBot 360 and program the robot using a simple programming language, BlocklyProp.

“Parallax has chosen UA Little Rock as one of their summer training sites,” said Sandra Leiterman, math specialist in the UA Little Rock STEM Education Center. “The goal of the workshop is for all the educators to incorporate what they learn into their computer science and robotics classes.”

Educators gained an introduction to circuit building using real-world electronic components and learned how to use the robot and programming language in semester-long courses. At the end of the workshop, the teachers got to keep the robot to use in their classrooms.

Nicholas Murry, who teaches automation and robotics at Dunbar Middle School, is planning to get about 20 robots to use with his 60 students.

“I thought the workshop was very productive and useful for my classes,” Murry said. “The robot comes with a kit that you can follow step-by-step and is standard for everyone to build it. The kids will enjoy this. I want my students to get the experience of programming and controlling a robot, learning how to code it, and how it can benefit people in real life.” 

Miguel Rodriquez, a Parallax employee who taught the workshop, said he loves seeing educators see how it easy it can be to build a robot and come up with fun activities that can be used in the classroom. Some of the most popular student projects he’s seen include having the robots emit a hissing sound when someone is standing in the robot’s path or dance when a certain song is played. He’s seen many robots dancing in sync to the “Baby Shark” song.

“Learning to program can be a steep curve, but Blockly makes that learning curve not as steep,” Rodriguez said. “Students won’t have to worry so much about syntax. The ActivityBot 360 is really easy to program, and it can be used in real-world projects. In one commercial application, farmers used it to modify drones to pollinate their crops.”

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