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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

June 26, 2003
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From childhood toys to robots
Adventures in learning

Putting her robot on track — a junior high school student demonstrates just what this robot can do.

Photo by Tracey Mills

Putting her robot on track — a junior high school student demonstrates just what this robot can do.

By Tracey Mills
Lego is no longer just another children’s toy. With the advent of the Lego Mindstorm robotics kit, children of all ages are being exposed to science and engineering principles by learning how to build and program a robot to do simple tasks.

The potential for these kits to excite young people about engineering and science careers has not gone unnoticed. Teachers from the Avalon East School District, working in collaboration with faculty members in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, are making sure that full advantage is taken of this educational opportunity.

For the past two years, junior high schools in the St. John’s area have been involved in an enrichment program in robotics. Operating out of the Instrumentation, Control and Automation Centre (INCA) at Memorial and taught by both faculty and graduate students in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, this enrichment program gives young students the chance to do hands-on robotic design, be creative, and really work together as part of a team.

“The students who have been involved in the enrichment program love it,” said Clarence Button, one of the coordinators for the enrichment program and a teacher at O’Donnell High School. “It is really amazing how much they learn in such a short time. They get to see the applications of science first-hand and this often renews their interest in the subject when they return to their classes.”

Ready, set go... Students get ready for the popular ‘wrestling’ match.

Photo by Tracey Mills

Ready, set go... Students get ready for the popular ‘wrestling’ match.

Dr. Ray Gosine, Engineering, could not agree more.

“This year we had over 500 students show an interest in the robotics enrichment course. Courses like this leave a marked impression upon the students. They are at a stage where they are forming impressions about what it means to be a doctor or an engineer. Having a hands-on learning opportunity really helps to shape these impressions and gives them a solid understanding.”
This year mechanical engineering student Nick Janes and engineering graduate student Rose Wilson got to help out and teach the four-day robotics course. It was not only a lot of fun, but also a chance to meet the up-and-coming future engineers.

“The course is a great introduction to software for kids. But best of all it is a lot of fun. They get to build their own robots using the Lego Mindstorm kit, program them to perform specified tasks and then compete in a ‘wrestling’ match,” said Ms. Wilson.

Their enthusiasm for the subject was contagious, added Mr. Janes. “Each student wanted to be there and it showed. They all said they wanted to come back and they wanted the course to be longer. If we have helped increase their interest in science, then that is something we should be very happy about.”

The Avalon East School District and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science plan to partner next year to offer the course again, and this time more students will get the chance to take part. Making this connection with young students is a part of the faculty’s plan to stimulate interest in engineering and its applications within the wider community. And it does not have to stop there.

“There are many other areas where we can collaborate with the local schools and give younger students the opportunity to come to Memorial and see what we do here,” added Dr. Gosine. “Opportunities like this are just the beginning.”


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