LHS teacher secures $69,000 grant for robotics education program

RobotsLAB CEO Elad Inbar holds a quadcopter drone Monday as he explains to Laramie High School math teachers how to use robots to engage students in math. CHILTON TIPPIN/Boomerang staff

JEREMY MARTIN

Several Laramie High School math teachers watched as a quadcopter drone lifted from the floor and hovered higher than the classroom’s desks.

Elad Inbar, CEO of RobotsLAB — a San Francisco-based company that develops robots and programs for education — used a tablet computer to control the drone Monday, turning it on and off, and entering in the height at which it would fly.

Inbar explained to the teachers that robots can be strong tools for helping engage students in the classroom.

“Math is too abstract; they don’t get it, they fail,” Inbar said during his presentation. “This is what we hear from teachers all the time, and this is why we created this.”

Inbar and Mike Rogero, RobotsLAB chief operating officer and chief financial officer, traveled to Laramie for a day-long training for LHS math teachers on how to use robots to teach science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, subjects.

The RobotsLAB representatives came for the training after Dennis Hogsett, LHS math teacher, secured a nearly $69,000 grant to teach students STEM subjects with the use of software, robots and 3D printers.

Hogsett applied for the grant from the Wyoming Department of Education’s Wyoming Education Trust Fund.

The money is slated to purchase robots — and other advanced technology — and integrate them into LHS math and science instruction. The intention is to help students retain STEM lessons and understand how such concepts are used beyond a school setting, Hogsett said.

Albany County School District No. 1 already received the funds, and Hogsett — along with other teachers from the math department — is using them to develop the program.

All LHS math department teachers are getting a box of robots from RobotsLAB this semester. The kit contains a quadcopter drone, robotic rover, robotic ball and robotic arm. It also comes with a tablet computer that controls the robots. The program on the tablet is packed with various lessons — geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, pre-calculus and the like — that tie into the robots’ functions.

Each robot comes with capabilities for teaching students an array of math subjects, Hogsett said. For example, the quadcopter demonstrates linear equations, quadratic equations, acceleration and the laws of sines and cosines, among others.

The robotic ball helps students understand probability, statistics, momentum, centripetal force and more.

 “They can program a robot to shoot baskets, for example, using physics to program in the robot how far to throw the ball,” Hogsett said. “It’ll record and plot the data so that you can write equations.”

The hope is such hands-on activities will help occupy the attention of students who wouldn’t otherwise engage with certain math or science concepts, said LHS math teacher Paul Street.

“If they’re not particularly interested in doing math already, and they’re saying, ‘What’s the point of this?’ we’re hoping this can help motivate kids to say, ‘Oh, a robot does these things, and that leads to this kind of math,’” Street said. “So, part of the model is to raise problems and questions that naturally arise from what these robots do.”

Funds from the grant — which Hogsett secured with help from Street and LHS teachers Denja Pommarane and Billie VanLandingham — are also available for Hogsett to travel to other schools with STEM and robotics programs, where he’ll gather information and ideas to help bolster LHS STEM education.

Math teachers have a common planning time in this year’s schedule. They plan to use the time to share ideas and advice on how to use robots in curriculum, Hogsett said.

In the future, the program will bring in the use of other technology, such as 3D printers. Additionally, the program could expand beyond math and science, incorporating subjects across a variety of curriculum, Hogsett said.

“I think the more places you can show kids where math is used, the more important, I hope, it becomes to them,” he said.

“The research shows that when they can actually put it to something that’s applicable, it helps them retain the information,” he added.

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