New Robotics Academy of Nevada to offer K-12 teacher trainings

University joins with DRI and UNLV to announce new Tesla-supported programs to advance STEM interest and education

With the support of mentors and teachers, robotics competition teams such as FYRE Robotics are exploring computer programming, engineering and robotics design, and having fun along the way.

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4/16/2019 | By: Jane Tors |

The Robotics Academy of Nevada - a new statewide professional development program funded by Tesla's K-12 Education Investment Fund - is being developed by the Desert Research Institute, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Nevada, Reno. Facilitated by DRI's Pre-K-12 STEM education and outreach program, Science Alive, the new academy will launch this summer in partnership with the Colleges of Engineering at Nevada's research universities in Reno and Las Vegas.

The Robotics Academy of Nevada is comprised of two week-long teacher trainings designed to help 200 middle and high school teachers go from curious to confident in coaching robotics programs at their schools, with mentor support throughout the year. Hosted on the universities' campuses and taught by university faculty in engineering and education, the Academy demonstrates the commitment to strengthen pathways from pre-K-12 to college degrees and high-tech careers.

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"The most widely-utilized system for encouraging students to participate in robotics-related activities are competition leagues, FIRST Robotics leagues for example," David Feil-Seifer, project lead for the University and assistant professor in computer science and engineering, said.

The energy and interest that robotics competitions can spark has been seen at the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center-Powered By Switch. In 2019 the Innevation Center's Makerspace again served as home-base to FYRE Robotics as the 15 team members, ages 13 to 18, designed and built their robot for the national FIRST Robotics Competition (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology). Several of FYRE's six mentors this season were Tesla employees and the team received support through Tesla's K-12 Education Investment Fund.

"They bring the Makerspace to life in the evenings and our members that work late in the Makerspace comment on the exceptional energy and work ethic of the FYRE team," said Crystal Harvey, assistant director of the Innevation Center. "The Makerspace is being used exactly as it was intended, to bring ideas to life, and the FYRE Robotics mentors are able to bring this resource to the K-12 students who are passionate about STEM, hands-on building and innovative design."

"It really changes a kid's life, and it has nothing to do with the robot the kids build or whether or not it works," Kerry Thompson, primary organizer and mentor to FYRE Robotics, said of the annual competition. "It doesn't matter if they can drill a hole straight or screw a screw in straight. It has to do with what they learn and what they can accomplish."

Brendan O'Toole, chair of UNLV's mechanical engineering department, project lead for UNLV and a longtime FIRST Robotics mentor and coach, agreed. "I've experienced first-hand how robotics programs prepare students to solve challenging problems and strengthen the school-to-STEM-career pipeline by inspiring students to explore science, engineering and technology options," he said.

The Robotics Academy of Nevada's workshop for teachers will introduce engineering and robotics into the existing curriculum across Nevada. Content will include an introduction to engineering processes, careers and methodologies for integration. Additional content will specifically address the implementation of competitive robotics and computer programming and cyber-literacy.

"We will organize a Northern Nevada Robotics Competition Workshop, which will be open to stakeholders of such a program, such as league administrators, school personnel, parents, University personnel and members of the private innovation community as a hands-on, zero-to-competition experience," added Feil-Seifer.

"We are very excited to be given the opportunity to help create the Robotics Academy of Nevada, which will support our teachers not only in a robust and extensive professional development program, but also give them the additional support they need year-round," said Amelia Gulling, Science Alive STEM education director at DRI. "The primary highlight of this statewide initiative has been the collaborative partnerships that have been developed with our fellow NSHE institutions, robotics competition programs and school districts."

The funding of the Robotics Academy of Nevada is part of Tesla's $37.5 million investment in K-12 education in Nevada aimed at programs that encourage students of all backgrounds to consider a career in STEM or sustainability. Tesla began rolling out the education investment in 2018 and will carry it out over five years.

Summer 2019 trainings will take place in Las Vegas May 28-June 1 at UNLV and in Reno June 17-21 at the University. Training will be free to educators and all educators will receive a stipend and continuing education credits. Participants who are non-local will also have accommodations covered as part of the training.

Interested teachers can apply at sciencealive.dri.edu/robotics.

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