When kids in Jackson County schools ask their teachers how robots work, their teachers are going to give good answers next school year.
On Tuesday, nearly three dozen Jackson middle and elementary school teachers saw robots helping assemble superchargers and earth-moving equipment in tours of two Athens manufacturing plants that use robots extensively in their manufacturing process.
In the morning, they toured the new Caterpillar plant near Athens, where the giant corporation manufactures small track-type tractors and small hydraulic excavators.
In the afternoon, they reassembled on the other side of Clarke County for a lengthy tour of the Eaton Corporation, near Winterville and Hull. Donning protective foot, eye and ear gear, they headed out on the factory floor in small groups to see how robots help the Eaton workforce of about 150 people make superchargers for Jaguar, Nissan, Ford, John Deere and other manufacturers.
They watched the Fanuc-made robots lift and flip the engine parts into a series of precise positions for drilling, welding or testing, while Eaton engineering manager Doug Brouillard explained what they were seeing.
With tolerances as fine as two thousandth of an inch, “These are very accurate,” he said.
They’re also reliable. Only one has needed repairs in his time at the plant, he said.
The tours are just part of a two-year program the teachers are part of, said UGA engineering professor Tim Foutz, who coordinates the program with colleagues in UGA’s colleges of engineering and education.
Robotics, and programming them, are an increasingly important part of manufacturing processes, he said — things children need to know about.
“So when kids ask, why do we need to know ‘Why do we need to know this,’ they can give a good answer,” Foutz said.
The Jackson County teachers will also be more prepared to guide students into science and engineering studies, and eventually, careers.
The teachers will be able to show their students how to build robots — in fact, part of the course the teachers signed up for requires them to build robots in teams.
“If they can learn in the third grade, and they say, ‘I like this,’ it might make a difference later. The teachers will be able to tell them, ‘You can do this,’ ” said another member of the UGA academic team, Roger Hill, a professor in the UGA College of Education’s department of career and informational studies. “We want to capture the teachers so they can tell the students.”
On Wednesday, they planned to return to the classroom to work on something that’s more a part of teachers’ everyday duties — designing lesson plans that can incorporate robotics into curriculum units to help students meet state learning requirements such as science and math.
“It’s not just about robotics. It’s about math and how to use the same logic in programming that you do in math,” Foutz said. The teachers are also learning about the social aspects of robotics-assisted manufacturing, such as teamwork, he said.
The robotics project itself is just the latest in a series of cooperative programs involving the two UGA colleges and Jackson County schools, Foutz said.
UGA and Jackson schools have collaborated on these STEM-related programs for teachers for more than a decade, thanks in large part to Jackson County’s Deborah Riddleberger, the system’s professional learning coordinator, who wrote the grant proposal, Foutz said.
Like other teachers in the program, Diane Hill was thinking about how she could use robotics to help her children reach state-mandated goals in math, and other knowledge areas.
She was thinking about how math would fit in, but children working with robots would obviously benefit in a couple of areas, she said.
“It will help with critical thinking and problem-solving,” said Hill, who teaches third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Benton Elementary School.