Robotics in schools
by Academy member Anthony Robins, Department of Computer Science at the University of Otago
I'm in the Computer Science department at Otago University. I do a lot of teaching at 100 level, so I have a strong interest in first year students and their backgrounds as they come in to tertiary education. Ten years ago I was looking round for ways to support computer programming and related activities in schools, so I got involved in the newly emerging RoboCup Junior competition. I have run school clubs, workshops for teachers, I am on the Otago regional committee and the national Trust organisation.
RoboCup is an annual robotics competition for schools (from primary on up). It involves building and training robots to compete in various challenges: Theater, a short performance on a stage; Search and Rescue, a combination of line-following, obstacle avoidance, and finding an object; and Soccer, two-a-side robot teams battle it out to score goals with an infrared emitting soccer ball on a small enclosed field.
Programming is a core skill in RoboCup, but it also involves other STEM skills such as engineering, general science, and in some cases maths. It also involves planning, design skills, problem solving, team work, and the Theater event can involve music, costume design, dance, and much more.
There are regional RoboCup competitions in roughly seven centers around NZ every year, and a national final event. In all 700 or more school students are involved, and they bring with them many friends and family. Robocup has been a great motivator for students, and has proven to be a life-changer for many contestants. We are seeing many RobocupJunior protégés heading on to study programming, mechatronics and electrical engineering. We are particularly pleased that, with a lot of work (and some excellent role models) we have achieved gender balance, with as many girls as boys taking part. Check out his short piece on ONE News about last year's national final.
Looking for a way to support STEM activities in schools? Try robotics!