Central Hawke's Bay College leading robotics education

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CHB College Year 13 students James Field (left), Daniel Johnston, Jarrod McLaren during a challenge where they have to shoot foam balls into a target and then drive around a field to collect more before the other robots can collect and shoot them.
CHB College Year 13 students James Field (left), Daniel Johnston, Jarrod McLaren during a challenge where they have to shoot foam balls into a target and then drive around a field to collect more before the other robots can collect and shoot them.

Riding on the back of their success at last year's regional event, the Central Hawke's Bay College VEX Robotics team has returned from the national VEX Robotics competition with an award recognising the pioneering education work being done by the school.

This was the first year the college had been involved in the competition, and the team qualified for the nationals as the number one team in the Central North Island region, after a competition held in Palmerston North in December.

Computer science teacher Ian Kenny says the event is the biggest and fastest growing classroom-based robotics competition in the world, of which New Zealand has been world champion for the last seven years.

Held annually, the competition involves an engineering challenge presented in the form of a game. Students, with guidance from their teachers and mentors, use the VEX Robotics Design System to build innovative robots designed to score the most points possible in qualification matches, elimination matches and skills challenges.

Mr Kenny said that with New Zealand schools being so successful at the world championships held in the United States, the standard at the nationals, held recently at the Vodafone Events Centre in Auckland, was always going to be tough.

This was proven with the CHB College team eventually knocked out at the semifinal stages by the eventual winners.

Although they did not claim the top prize, the school was recognised for its pioneering work in STEM education in the Hawke's Bay region, Mr Kenny said.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and STEM Education fosters a collaborative, hands-on, problem-based learning that draws on knowledge from all four disciplines.

"It promotes the student as the innovator and critical thinker, who is also able to make meaningful connections between school, community, work and global issues," Mr Kenny said.

The VEX Robotics platform is now offered as part of the curriculum at CHB College as well as an extracurricular club.

The school also runs a full computer science programme offering achievement standards at all levels and covering computer programming, robotics and PC hardware and servicing.

"I've been lucky to have the backing from the college to set up these programmes to this extent," Mr Kenny said.

"But the students are definitely benefiting from them, not just for VEX, but also for the ever changing career paths that are now on offer.

"It would be great to see more schools in Hawke's Bay embrace computer science and VEX Robotics."

Mr Kenny is also part of a new initiative called The Digital Circus that has been set up to help other Hawke's Bay schools experience robotics and expose their students to a different form of learning.

Working closely with EIT, Mr Kenny said he hoped that some of the hundreds of technology companies in Hawke's Bay could see the importance of this initiative and get involved.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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