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Educational robotics successfully embedded into Pilbara primary schools

Scitech’s Professional Learning team have taken Digital Technology teaching practices to the next level.

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From 2014 to 2019, Scitech delivered the Intensive Robotics Program to primary schools in the Pilbara region in partnership with Mitsui Iron Ore Development. Through teacher professional learning, the program focused on developing technological skills and knowledge in both teachers and students, while raising awareness of the importance of technology skills for participation in the future workforce.

From the outset, educational robotics provided an opportunity to create meaningful impact in the Pilbara region, as at the time, few schools had educational robotics and teachers had already indicated an interest in learning how to use them in the classroom.

With 40% of current jobs affected by digitisation and automation over the next two decades, and 75% of jobs in the fastest growing industries needing STEM skills, the Intensive Robotics Program was developed as a key initiative to ensure communities in the Pilbara were able to continue to thrive and prosper in accordance with the rapidly changing needs of the future workforce.

Every year, one focus school was chosen to participate, receiving support from Scitech’s Professional Learning team through face-to-face coaching, planning sessions and whole-of-school workshops.

Each participating school received a wide variety of educational robotics, from tiny line following Ozobot robots that fit in the palm of a hand, to advanced LEGO robotics with motors, sensors and thousands of pieces.

Schools also received customisable electronics components and programmable elements such as micro:bit, Makey Makey and littleBits. Student workshops began with basic construction challenges and collaborative activities, before progressing to designing and building robots, to then programming robots to respond to sensors using a complex sequence of instructions.

From 2014 – 2019, the Intensive Robotics Program invested $530,700 in STEM education in the Pilbara, impacting 2,317 students, or 72% of primary aged children in the city of Karratha. 158 teachers were directly impacted by this flexible and cross-curricular program, designed to upskill in the Digital Technologies and General Capabilities of the WA Curriculum.

While the provision of equipment was a big drawcard for schools, teachers indicated the relationships they built with Scitech’s Professional Learning team over the course of the year were the most valuable aspects of the program. Scitech received a wide range of positive feedback through annual teacher assessment surveys, including the following examples.

“Having Simon come into my year 2 classroom not only benefited my students, but also myself. As a second-year graduate, I didn’t have an in-depth understanding of how to use the LEGO WeDo or MakeyMakey kits or how to incorporate these into my STEM planning. During the sessions, it didn’t matter what the student’s abilities were, together with Simon’s support, students led their own learning by experimenting with the equipment and discovering how to code.” Year 2 Teacher, Baynton West Primary School.

“We loved working with Simon and Tim. Such a great experience and our school is so much better for it! Next year we will have a specialised Technologies Room so am looking forward to that as well. Thanks for all your hard work this year!” Jesse Yock, Assistant Principal, St Paul’s Primary School.

“The resources have been sensational. They’ve really enhanced the children’s ability to engage with robotics. But I have to say the Professional Learning that has also been provided as part of our involvement with Scitech has really enhanced the children’s skills; the teacher’s skills have really improved and therefore they are able to teach more effectively.” Lisa Ledger, Principal, Baynton West Primary School.

By 2019, the Intensive Robotics Program showed signs of having achieved its goals. Half of the potential candidate schools in the Pilbara had been focus schools, and those who had not participated observed the success of the program and were inspired to obtain educational robotics by other means.

One notable indicator of the success of the Program was one focus school, Wickham Primary School, instigating the Pilbara RoboCup Junior competition in 2017. Most Pilbara schools participate in the annual competition, spending many months in preparation. The competition has experienced a 268% growth in student numbers since 2017, with multiple Pilbara schools now traveling to Perth every year to compete in the RoboCup Junior State event.

With Scitech and Mitsui declaring “mission accomplished” for the Intensive Robotics Program, the partnership evolved in 2020 with the development of the Future Computing Program, a logical step to take Digital Technology education in the region to the next level.

Continuing with the model of one focus school per year, the Future Computing Program will focus on years four to six to comprehensively address the Technologies learning area and ICT capability of the WA curriculum.

The Future Computing Program will expand from robotics into the wider fields of computer science, coding, machine learning AI, internet of things and mechatronics. Schools will be supplied with computing platforms such as Raspberry Pi, Micro:bit and Arduino and provided with teacher support to implement these tools into their day to day teaching.

The ability to develop and sustain long lasting relationships with partners and educators alike, enables Scitech to deliver meaningful impact for the Western Australian community. Programs are designed to be distinctive and spark curiosity, opening the doorway to an inspiring and sustained learning journey which develops the STEM skills and knowledge to confidently, creatively and critically participate in WA’s future.

The Intensive Robotics Program, enabled through the ongoing support of Mitsui Iron Ore Development, is just one example of Scitech’s long-term impact in Western Australia.

Three young boys standing over robotic toys.

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