OLD timers can only wistfully dream.
Wouldn’t it be cool to play with Lego and build robots as part of your school learning?
And as a bonus, learn how to become a software programmer.
It’s not a dream, as this writer discovered on a recent visit to Dowerin District High School, watching one Year Five and two Year Six students program a Lego robot to move forward and reverse.
Pretty basic stuff, but nonetheless primordial steps towards what one day could be a WA made autonomous vehicle for the farm.
According to the school’s principal Barb Garner it’s all part of creative learning opportunities for children and with the help of local businesses – Boekeman Machinery, Dowerin Events Management and accountants Waugh Miller MacQueen – 12 robots have been purchased to provide real-world training and problem-solving under the umbrella of the Teacher Development School (TDS) initiative.
The initiative promotes the sharing of high level curriculum expertise and innovation across schools, networks and professional learning communities.
Dowerin District High School was invited to become a TDS school for mathematics in 2014/15 and this was expanded in 2016/17 to a Regional Teacher Development School for Mathematics and Science.
It means the school can provide support for teachers and schools to, among other things, improve mathematics and science curriculum knowledge and teaching strategies.
And building and working robots obviously fits that category.
Students use the popular Lego Mindstorms EV3 product.
By combining Lego elements with Lego-programmable motors and sensors, students can build and operate unique robots.
Last month, the school held the first regional RoboCup, involving three other regional schools all using EV3 robots.
Such competitions have been organised throughout Australia for more than 17 years with State, national and international competitions which students and schools can aspire to.
The project-oriented educational initiative is designed to introduce RoboCup to primary and secondary school children, as well as undergraduates.
The focus at a junior level is on education with more complex levels aimed at fostering Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics research by providing a standard problem where a wide range of technologies can be integrated and examined.
This is where our budding WA geniuses will be involved in autonomous vehicles to improve life on the farm – and productivity.
Perhaps the best part of this school learning is the holistic approach to maths and science and human development.
The realistic entry level is pre-primary where very basic coding can be taught as children build their working robots.
Right from the start it involves problem-sharing, problem-solving and building ‘team’ relationships in the classrooms as progress is made towards competitions.
According to Year 3-4 teacher Nathan Brown, this 21st century learning is focused on teachers being facilitators of learning, allowing students to think outside the square when confronted with problems, and being encouraged to take risks.
“Children quickly learn to work as a team when building robots,” he said. “And that’s a skill they take with them into the workforce.
“From an agriculture perspective, they will be more digitally attuned to farm machinery and the benefits of automation.
“It’s definitely a fun way to learn and students really enjoy the accomplishment of making a workable robot they have designed and programmed themselves.”
According to Ms Garner, the school will hold another RoboCup next year with the aim to rotate the event throughout the Wheatbelt in future years to encourage participation in competitions at a State and national level.
Interestingly, the ultimate goal of international organisers of RoboCup, is that by the middle of the 21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players will compete against the (human) World Cup champions.