By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
Students were teaching the teachers to assemble complex robots as the “Lab-in-a-Box” program developed by Roane State Community College reached a major landmark.
The occasion was the latest session of showing teachers from rural middle schools how to include the innovative kits to instruct their students in scientific principles of friction, fossils and robotics.
“The more hands-on lessons students have, the more they can grasp the concept,” Rockwood Middle School teacher Bernard McMahon said.
The Lab-in-a-Box program evolved from an initiative 11 years ago by the East Tennessee Economic Council to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in rural schools.
Roane State has been deeply involved in the program from its start. Faculty members developed the three kits, and each summer they introduce the components – contained in large plastic boxes – to area teachers.
Three siblings – Henry, William and Elizabeth Kitts – members of the “Secret City Wildbots” Team 4265 from Oak Ridge, were recruited by Roane State Professor Dr. Sylvia Pastor to give the robotics instruction.
“We’ve reached a big milestone,” said Pastor, who each summer oversees the Lab-in-a-Box lessons for area teachers “We’ve now put all three kits in all 27 rural schools involved in the program.”
Areas served by Lab-in-a-Box include Anderson, Campbell, Loudon, Morgan, Roane and Scott counties, along with Lenoir City and Oneida schools.
“The kids will enjoy building these robots,” said Mandy Scandlyn, who teaches math at Cherokee Middle School in Roane County.
“My kids love anything hands-on,” Scandlyn said. “It makes them think outside the box. It will teach them cooperation and teamwork.”
Scandlyn and seven other area teachers were involved in the first session on the Roane County campus. Other training was conducted on the community college’s campuses in Campbell and Morgan County.
Eighteen middle school teachers from 12 schools participated in the training sessions, and 21 “Lab-in-a-Box” kits were deployed.
The robots, built to aim and shoot small foam balls at targets, will boost “problem-based learning,” said Cherokee Middle School colleague Joshua Banken.
“I’m always looking for more resources,” said Britini Carter, who teaches science at Oliver Springs Middle School.
Officials said students taught with Lab-in-a-Box resources have scored higher on STEM subject standardized tests than students without access to Lab-in-a-Box.
While all of the targeted middle schools have all three current kits, funds are needed to replenish resources. Pastor said there are also plans to introduce the Lab-in-a-Box kits to other area schools and develop other study subjects.
Donors can designate where to deploy their funds. The program is administered by the nonprofit Roane State Foundation. Donations can be made online at roanestate.edu/RuralSTEM.