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From robot vacuum cleaners, self-parking cars and automatic irrigation systems to security systems and industrial manufacturing, increasing levels of technology are becoming a critical part of our everyday lives. The skills required to develop and understand these systems require knowledge in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or ‘STEM’ education). Make learning fun To foster an interest in STEM at the grass-roots level, the CQ Junior Robotics Competition brings students together for a community-based educational initiative. CQUniversity has hosted this annual event since 2003, attracting from 70 to 200 students per year. The event is based on the state and national RoboCup Junior Competition. Consisting of different categories including rescue, soccer and dance, the event is open to primary and secondary students. The competition is hotly contested and many participants have progressed to competitions at the state and national championship level. See www.cqjrc.cqu.edu.au for further information. Educational robotics has a multidisciplinary focus across technologies such as computing, mathematics, software programming, electrical and mechanical engineering, artificial intelligence, communication, sensor technology, educational technology, image processing and game theory. It requires participants to demonstrate teamwork and knowledge across the different discipline areas, whilst overcoming challenging real world situations. That sounds like pretty advanced education, right? But to kids, it’s just good fun. It’s promoting STEM at the level that’s needed to support society’s future needs whilst engaging participants in a way that appeals to their current interests. Identify and address potential barriers to learning Within Central Queensland, schools and students are very keen to get involved with robotics however feedback indicates a number of potential barriers to uptake. Some of these include: • Teachers often lack the specific robotics skills and knowledge required to mentor students • Teachers and students often don’t have access to the required equipment and resources within their school and • Many schools struggle to find the time and space within the curriculum to support programs of this nature (and therefore rely on the personal time and interest of specific teachers to engage students in extra-curricular activities). Support key influencers to overcome the challenges To overcome some of these potential challenges, the CQ Junior Robotics Competition trialled a discovery program called ‘discover the world of robotics’. To support local schools to get involved in the competition, the program offered 10 schools the opportunity to participate in a fully funded professional development activity. Over 30 nominations were received from local schools. The program included: • a hands on full day learning workshop with world renowned robotics educator Dr Damien Kee (with one teacher from each of the 10 participating schools) • a student focussed robotics excursion (with up to 3 students per school) and • a heavily subsidised robotics kit for the school. Overall, the pilot program proved to be a huge success. Teachers returned to their schools with practical skills and knowledge they could use to teach their students. Whilst students discovered new confidence and experience they could use to inspire others as school based mentors. The program was made possible by funding from CQUniversity and a grant from the Department of Education and Training (CQ Gifted and Talented). Their generous support enabled 10 schools to enter the competition for the very first time. As a result of the program, the 2015 competition is likely to achieve record participation levels, more than doubling the number of students from the previous year. There is considerable demand for initiatives of this kind, however future programs are heavily dependent on available funding. 5 Where to from here The students of today are the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians of the future… they are our innovators and problem solvers. The CQ Junior Robotics Competition has succeeded by engaging these very kids (and their schools) in a fun, supportive and community based environment. And in doing so, has provided a clear pathway into further STEM education. This has been evidenced by many of the past participants progressing to tertiary studies. So how can we encourage more of this sort of involvement? To sustain and grow interest in STEM, our experience indicates that further support is required at the grass-roots level. Some key questions that need to be considered and addressed include the following: • Are there opportunities to ensure further school-based technology programs to be recognised and supported within the wider educational curriculum? • Is it possible to provide teachers with greater access to the professional development required to support higher-level STEM initiatives? • How can we ensure schools are appropriately funded and equipped to support specific learning in advanced STEM areas? and • What else can be done to get kids excited and actively engaged in interactive, real-world, learning opportunities? Read more
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