Educators from nine schools and one university attend robotics training provided by SARAO

Educators from nine schools and one university in the Northern Cape have undergone training for the Robotics Schools Programme, managed by the SARAO Schools Programme in the Human Capacity Development department.

The teachers from Brandvlei High School, Brandvlei Primary School, Williston High School, Nico Bekker Primary in Williston, Carnarvon Primary School, Carnarvon High School, Van Wyksvlei Intermediate School, JJ Booysen Primary School in Loxton, Karoo Akademie in Carnarvon and a lecturer from Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley completed the training on 18 and 19 February 2022 in Carnarvon.

Although the training was primarily for the teachers of the schools that are involved in the programme, it also provided an opportunity to introduce the programme to external interested parties, namely the Karoo Akademie and Sol Plaatje University. The two representatives from these organisations volunteered to attend the training.

The Robotics Schools Programme (also known as the LEGO Schools Programme) was started in 2016 with five schools in order to develop and inspire an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in the schools around the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The Robotics Schools Programme introduces STEM concepts to learners through fun activities using the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics kit. Training for the schools include instruction on how to use the kit to build and program robots, how to work together as a team and how to effectively compete in the different competitions.

The FIRST LEGO League board missions that the teams had to attempt.

The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 sets or kits are bought by SARAO and loaned to the schools through a contractual agreement for the use in the programme. Costs related to the training, registration for competitions, competition materials, transport, food and accommodation for teams as well as other resources used for the Robotics Schools Programme are paid for by SARAO. In previous years the teams have competed locally, nationally and internationally under the guidance of Odwa Magabuko and his team consisting of Chantel Mathison and Tshepiso Rossouw from the SARAO Carnarvon Office and Robotics Schools Programme, as well as Amy Gouws from the Cape Town SARAO office.

Over the years, the Robotics teams at the schools have competed in the Virtual Gear Competition, the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and Junior FLL (FLL Jr.); and the World Robot Olympiad (WRO).

“Many of the teachers present at the training have taken a team or two to different competitions over the last few years and so had been exposed to the different kits and challenges. This training gave them the opportunity to become more comfortable with the resources and ask any questions that they had. It also equipped them with the experience and knowledge needed to assist and guide their teams in the future,” says Gouws.

During the two days of the training the educators were taken through various topics and themes, ensuring that the teams are competition-ready for later in the year. They were trained to use the  LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits, taken through robot building and programming, and different aspects of the FIRST LEGO League competition and the World Robot Olympiad.

The training gives the participants an opportunity to understand the robotics kits and the teachers are given the chance to play and explore the resources and build confidence using it. With confidence using the kits the participants are comfortable enough to provide guidance in the use of the tools and assist with troubleshooting when the children learn about robotics.

“All the participants immersed themselves fully into the challenges and seemed to have built good relationships with the other educators at the training. The external organisations that joined to see what the programme was about, gave feedback that they really enjoyed the sessions and were considering obtaining the resources to start their own teams. There are currently plans being made to assist them in getting access to these resources,” says Magabuko.