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Auburn University Engineering and Education Professors Collaborate to Improve STEM Education in Rural Alabama Schools

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Auburn University has been awarded a three-year, $589,889 grant for the National Science Foundation’s first research experiments project for teachers at Auburn, titled “Project-Based Learning for High School STEM Teachers.” rural Alabama in machine learning and robotics”.

This project will provide hands-on research experiences in robotics and machine learning/artificial intelligence, or ML/AI, to 30 STEM middle school teachers – 10 each year – and expand their knowledge of teaching these concepts through learning per project as part of a six-week summer program.

As part of a collaborative effort between the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, the College of Education and participating teachers who will engage with project team members in the development of curriculum modules using content from ML/AI, the program is expected to reach approximately 1,200 students in multiple school districts in rural and underserved areas of Alabama. Students will acquire valuable knowledge relevant to preparing them for an increasingly technological society.

The project aims to provide the following experiences:

  • Professional development activities and teaching approaches on the fundamentals of robotics and machine learning/artificial intelligence and a new research and teaching platform on mobile robots based on machine learning

  • Engage teachers and undergraduate students in hands-on research projects on ML-based mobile robots that align well with the active research projects of faculty mentors

  • Collaboration with Faculties of Engineering and STEM Education to develop and implement project-based curricular modules

  • Professional leadership development and mentoring skills through teacher leader academies

  • Support teachers in the implementation of RET curricular modules through academic monitoring.

The engineering project team includes Xiaowen Gong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who serves as the project’s principal investigator, Daniela Marghitu (Co-PI), professor and director of the Education and Technology Laboratory of assistant in computer software and scientific engineering, and Thaddeus Roppel (Co-PI), associate professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Members of the Education Project team include Melody Russell (Co-PI), former Professor of Science Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, who will assist in the development of curriculum modules of study, as well as teacher professional development, and Chih-hsuan Wang, a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology, who will serve as project evaluator.

“We really wanted to reach out to educators in the traditionally underserved Black Belt region of Alabama, and there is a great need for programs like this,” Gong said. “Each year, we will recruit 10 teachers and offer them teaching and research activities led by AU professors in electrical and computer engineering and computer science. We already have over 10 AU faculty members enrolled.

Roppel, director of the Sensor Fusion Laboratory in Auburn, specializes in robotics and K-12 outreach. Roppel and Gong, along with a few other faculty members in electrical and computer engineering and computer science at Auburn, will mentor participating teachers who will provide research projects for teachers.

Marghitu will develop the project’s comprehensive web portal and work with Russell on the development of curriculum modules for the middle school classroom in conjunction with participating teachers. Marghitu will also organize, in collaboration with Gong and all co-PIs, a one-week camp during which teachers will practice teaching the modules of the RET program.

“We hope this project will improve content literacy for students and teachers in underserved areas of Alabama through the development of innovative curriculum modules based on cutting-edge technologies,” Gong said. “This new component will not replace their existing curriculum, but we hope it will spark interest in STEM-related education and inspire them to pursue it as a career or education.”

Educators interested in applying to the program are encouraged to complete this preliminary questionnaire.