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Hamilton Catholic board hears benefits of robotics programs

By Kathy Yanchus, Metroland Media Group

Students involved in school robotics teams are benefiting in innumerable ways, members of the Religion, Family Life and Instructional Services committee of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board were told last Tuesday night.

Along with coach Matt Alderson of RMT Robotics, four of the eight-member team known as GARF (Guardian Angels Robot Force) from last year, were on hand to speak about the program and the Waterdown school’s success at the 2012 FIRST Lego League (FLL) Robotics Championships in California last May. The team, comprised of students in Grades 6-8, finished in the top 1 per cent of FLL teams from around the world.

Teams were judged on design, programming and teamwork, said Alderson, who introduced the program at Guardian Angels five years ago, and subsequently at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, as well as at St. Thomas Catholic Elementary School in Waterdown.

“Students were judged on their robots. They had to explain to professional engineers and scientists as to why it was built the way it was built, and the methods used in the development of the programming and the engineering that went into it,” said Alderson.

Students were also given a challenge to solve on the spot and had to put into action their

“soft skills” that are important in any engineering project, which involve breaking down a problem and designing a workable solution, he added.

“Even though they’re only in Grades 6, 7 and 8, they learned things like troubleshooting, problem-solving, how to work together, how to deal with time pressures, constraints and they were able to express those to the judges.”

Learning marketable skills and introducing students to potential career paths in science, technology and engineering are byproducts of robotics team programs, said Alderson.

Another component of the competition was to research and design a solution to a current problem facing society with Food Factor being last year’s theme. The GARF students designed a refrigeration system without electricity, to keep food fresh.

There is a continuum associated with the program as well, explained Alderson, with elementary school students having the opportunity to join high school robotics teams and even at the university level, where at McMaster University for example, a team of undergrad engineering students, macFIRST, who experienced the benefits of FIRST, now serve as mentors for secondary school students.

“And then there are people like myself who work out in the industry, who are looking for these kids who have these skills, when they exit their educational career to be able to come aboard and to be able to contribute.”

“The skills that they’re learning are the skills companies like ours are looking for when we’re hiring people,” he said.

 

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