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Teaching mathematics through robotics

Shelli Casler-Failing with students
Shelli Casler-Failing, Ph.D., is pictured (center) working with teachers on LEGO robotics and mathematics curriculum.

Georgia Southern University College of Education faculty member Shelli Casler-Failing, Ph.D., found a passion for robotics while student teaching in her graduate teacher preparation program. Placed in a math class where students needed additional instruction, Casler-Failing realized quickly that she would need to think creatively to get the students interested in learning.

“Needless to say, the students had no desire to be in the class and do math,” she explained. “However, they were more than willing to program and test robots. They were so focused on the task and playing with the robots that they didn’t realize they were applying their math skills. I knew at that moment robotics was something I needed to learn more about.”

Since then, Casler-Failing has attended numerous professional workshops on robotics and became an instructor for the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE) summer programs to expand her expertise on LEGO robotics. While still teaching in the middle school classroom setting, Casler-Failing started her first LEGO League in 2011 and conducted after school robotics programs for the students.

“Seeing students’ interactions with robotics in an extracurricular environment caused me to introduce them in my math classes,” she said. “I created lessons that I then shared by presenting at several math conferences in New York state. Some of the conference presentations led to invitations to travel to schools to work with teachers on an individual basis.”

With a transition to teaching in higher education, Casler-Failing continues to utilize robotics in her mathematics methods classes and offers local professional development opportunities for teachers grades 4-8. October wrapped up a Georgia Southern internal, seed-funded program offered to local middle grades teachers to create curriculum utilizing LEGO robotics.

Teachers are given the opportunity to pilot their curriculum with robotics with each other to assist in reviewing their instruction.

“Each of the participants had the opportunity to create their own activity and lesson plan that they then piloted with fellow teachers,” explained Casler-Failing. “This opportunity allowed them to gain comfort utilizing the robotics in their instruction and troubleshoot any technical issues in a safe, supportive environment.”

Casler-Failing says teachers should also enjoy teaching with robotics and look for ongoing opportunities.

“Teachers need time to learn about, and play with, the technology,” she explained. “Teachers want to participate in professional development focused on using and incorporating technology in their classrooms, but they will need support to continue to incorporate technology into their lessons.”

Casler-Failing plans to keep working with regional teachers who are interested in learning more about this form of instructional technology in the classroom.

“I am in the early stages of planning a monthly or bimonthly Saturday morning robotics professional development that would be open to teachers of any grade level and content areas who want to learn about teaching with robotics,” she said. “I have experienced the benefits of teaching with robotics and know how powerful they can be as an instructional tool. I want to continue to support our regional teachers in helping students feel engaged and empowered in the classroom, and I just love working with robotics and want to share that passion as well.”

Interested in learning how to incorporate LEGO robotics in your classroom? Contact Casler-Failing at scaslerfailing@georgiasouthern.edu.

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