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iRobot, Mass Tech Leadership Council and UMass Lowell Host Workshop

Educators to Use Robotics for Classroom STEM Instruction

At the STREAM workshop, educators participate in interactive sessions and attend presentations given by their peers currently utilizing robots to successfully teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

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iRobot Corporation, in partnership with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council and UMass Lowell, recently hosted the STREAM 2009 workshop for robotics education at its headquarters in Bedford. The workshop was designed by Associate Professor Holly Yanco and Kristen Stubbs, the STEM Outreach Program Manager at iRobot and a former post-doctoral researcher in Yanco's robotics lab.

More than 45 teachers from middle and high schools as well as community and state colleges across the commonwealth participated in four intensive hands-on sessions covering the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The science workshop was led by Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin of the UMass Lowell Computer Science Department and Sam Christy of Machine Science. It covered the use of iSENSE technology, a web-based system for aggregating and sharing data collected using ordinary sensor probes used in K-12 classrooms.

“At STREAM, my research group launched new technology developed as part of our NSF-funded iSENSE project, and I was thrilled to have been able to work with such a motivated and highly talented group of teachers at the workshop,” says Martin.

The technology session was led by Melissa Pickering of the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and involved hands-on LEGO robotics activities. The engineering session was conducted by Michael Bastoni of GEARS Educational Systems, while the mathematics session was spearheaded by Ricky Carter of Algebra Immersion Robotics. Interspersed with the hands-on sessions were a series of “short talks” led by industry leaders and teachers engaged in school-university partnerships.

“STEM subjects form the building blocks for innovation, particularly related to technology,” said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot. “There is growing concern that the United States is falling behind other nations in terms of math and science aptitude, and the educators taking part in the STREAM 2009 workshop recognize that robots have the potential to play an integral role in reversing that downward spiral. Their goal is to excite students about the opportunities that a passion for STEM could afford them in life.”

In addition to the interactive sessions, iRobot also subsidized the cost of iRobot Create robots for interested educators. iRobot Create is a preassembled mobile robot platform that allows educators, students and developers to program behaviors, sounds and movements and add additional electronics.

Additional sponsors for the STREAM 2009 workshop included the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE), SIM Boston and The MIT Press.

- Edwin Aguirre

The two-day workshop is designed to expose educators to the many ways robotics can act as a tool for their instruction related to STEM.