Dunstan gains robotics funding

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Dunstan High School pupils will soon be learning how to build and teach robots to play football, which will line up with the Ministry of Education’s proposed new Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiki curriculum.

Dunstan High maths and robotics teacher Michelle Bromby has sourced funding to buy what was needed.

The school was given an $18,000 grant for its new programme by the Central Lakes Trust earlier this month and last Friday she heard the Otago Community Trust had approved a further $19,000, so she intended to place orders for the necessary robotic equipment including software, sensors, 15 “grunty” laptops and an infrared football the same day.

The school provided a further $1000 towards the robotics programme.

“It took quite a lot of work to get there but it should be worth it,” Mrs Bromby said,

Dunedin-based Scott Technology has loaned the school equipment and software to encourage the students to learn to code and make working robots.

She also received support from Otago University’s Sandy Garner, who ran the community outreach robotics programme.

Pupil James Donald has been using the equipment and software to learn how to code and build small robots.

He recently built a small Lego model and added colour, proximity and motion sensors as well as a gyroscope for direction, to create one that senses obstacles and receives orders from his laptop.

‘Some of them took up to three or four weeks to work out the kinks to get the final product,” he said.

“Some are really simple to make in a few days.”

He said one of the club’s goals was to build robots to compete in the Robo Cup in Dunedin in June next year.

School teams design and build robots for theatre and search and rescue tasks, or to play football in teams of two, using an infrared ball.

“We spent about a year getting James up to speed, as he was a bit like a test person,” Mrs Bromby said.

“The learning is unlimited, and will be driven by the students.

“We will do what interests them and it is really exciting, really challenging.”

Mrs Bromby said Alexandra Primary School had established a coding and robotics club, which was one of the reasons she set up the high school group, so as to give the pupils from there the opportunity to build on what they had learnt.

“Mt Aspiring College is also doing some pretty cool stuff,” she said.

Mrs Bromby, who was a software engineer before she retrained as a teacher, said the new curriculum was needed as digital technology was one of the fastest-growing sectors in New Zealand.

There was a significant shortage of skilled people able to design, build and programme the increasingly diverse range of technology becoming available.

“People will need to know how to control the robots, programme them and maintain them and it will be hugely important.”

Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced the content of the new curriculum in June and consultation on the programme closes today.

At the same time, she announced a $40 million investment package designed to train teachers to deliver the new digital technology curriculum, which will be in place by 2020.

Content for the new curriculum, which will be available for use in classrooms from January next year, will teach pupils to code and “become fluent” in digital skills from the age of 5.