Teachers at Narooma High School have never seen students knocking down the science lab door after recess or staying after school like they have for the robotics class project currently underway.
Perhaps its the fact that they’ve had an actual NASA engineer in the classroom to inspire them or perhaps its just that robots are really cool and are going to be increasingly important into the future.
It’s all part of the FIRST Robotics Australia program now active in 150 new schools, providing a robotics set, teacher mentoring and support to student groups across Australia, with corporate sponsors including Google, Ford and Macquarie University.
Three mentors from FIRST Robotics visited Narooma High School last week, assisting students with their robot ahead of the FIRST Robotics Asia Pacific final in Sydney on March 18 and 19.
The robotics program has been going at Narooma High School for around six months now but the intensity has ramped up as students prepare for upcoming robot “games” where their robot will be put to the test against robots from other schools in a medieval-themed obstacle course.
The Narooma students were stoked to have actual NASA engineer Tyler Evans helping last week, who took time off from his job building satellites for the American space agency in Washington DC.
Mr Evans said he had been working on the same satellite for four years with another two to go before it was launched. He participated in the robot building program as a student in his home city of Seattle and it helped him get his dream job, so he had volunteered as a mentor ever since.
“It’s hands on and takes the students out of their comfort zone and gives them a lot of confidence and experience that you don’t always get in the classroom or reading books,” he said.
Also helping the students was retired aerospace engineer Andy Marshall from Iowa in the USA and as well as commerce student James McArthur from Macquarie University.
The program is run like a business at each school with various tasks divided up ranging from the obvious engineering, design and construction of the actual robot, to developing the computer software, a name and design and even fundraising and media.
Year 11 student Tekeisha Thomas has been appointed media spokesperson and said she had learned a lot and the team work aspect would help her in whatever career she chose.
“My favourite part is building the robot,” Tekeisha said. “At first it seemed a bit complicated but when you get everyone working together it is actually easier than it looks.”
The robot has to be “bagged and tagged” ready for the comp by February 23 and the Narooma High School students will have a naming ceremony planned where more funds will be raised.
There are 19 teams currently competing in the FIRST program around the world and the Narooma team is Number 5988 to have competed over the years. The competition in Sydney will see 45 schools from around Australia participating.
The enthusiasm has spread to young students with two previous the robotics class workshops put on for Narooma Public School also booking out.
There is now a third workshop planned for Saturday. March 12 where Year 4 to Year 6 students can come and learn about robotics from the older Narooma High School students.
Interested parents can make inquiries at the high school and proceeds from the workshops go toward helping the older students get to the national competition.
The students at Narooma High School may have the brains and know-how to build a robot, but they need all the financial help and sponsorship they can get – hint, hint wealthy donors.
The ladies from Quota International Narooma came on board this week donating $1000 to help the students get to the national robot competition in Sydney. Thanks ladies, the students are most grateful.
Sally-Ann Williams, Engineering Community and Outreach Manager of Google said, “Here at Google, we want to introduce and inspire kids everywhere with the endless possibilities available in the field of STEM, which is why we’ve invested $1M in grants with partners like FIRST Robotics Australia. We're excited to see the FIRST Robotics program grow, delivering mentoring and much needed hands-on training to even more students across the country, including the kids from Narooma and Wee Waa.”
Luan Heimlich, Director of FIRST Australia said, "Through FIRST, kids are selected in a variety of ways; some children need a little encouragement to get involved and engaged in school and others show an strong interest in science. FIRST has been working closely with the Department of Education to identify ‘underserved’ schools, knowing which ones would be engaged in the program and have a particular interest. Google's grant of $330,000 has allowed us to get to these schools where we wouldn’t have been able to get to otherwise, and some of these children wouldn’t have known what a robot was.”