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Coding the way forward

Olivia Choi, Tiffany Au, Arshia Nanda and Isabella Morkos

Coding, constructing and collaborating are all in a day’s schoolwork for Meriden’s Senior School girls as they continue to hone their robotics skills through external competitions.

This month, fifteen students in Years 9 to 12, members of the School’s cocurricular Tech Club, attended the NSW FIRST Tech Challenge. The girls were required to design and construct a functioning robot capable of working both autonomously and with a driver to complete a series of tasks, including navigating an area, picking up objects and shooting those objects into “goals”. The students, for whom a project of this scale was completely new, spent months developing a robot using mechatronic parts and electronic motors, which they coded using Java.

Year 9 student, Natalie So, said the competition presented a myriad of challenges.

“Our team’s goal was to create a simple robot capable of driving around and lifting rings which it would then drop into specific places in order to score points,” she said.

“But when we arrived at the venue, our robot malfunctioned and was not able to drive or pick up rings, so we spent most of the morning working to get it back online, with the more experienced coders in our team working on the code while the rest of us worked on the mechanics. We decided to sit out the first round in order to ensure everything was working correctly and by the time the second match rolled around, we could drive the robot using a controller and its claw mechanism was functional.”

Chelsea Jin, one of Team Meriden’s Year 11 members, said the challenges experienced and overcome were part of what made the competition enjoyable.

“Our robot fell apart in the morning but we were very excited to finally get the robot moving and it was extremely rewarding to see how the hardware and software worked together.”

Days after the Tech Challenge event, Meriden sent two teams of students in Years 7 and 8 to compete in the Regional FIRST Lego League Challenge. Each team designed, built and coded a robot, then prepared video footage of their robots completing a series of challenges. On the day of the competition, the girls logged onto a video call with a panel of judges, who quizzed them on their technical knowledge and skills and the processes they undertook to complete their projects.

Olivia Choi, Year 7, said she most enjoyed learning new skills through the build.

“Most of our team members had to learn to code and it was a lot of fun to be able to take on the challenge with friends,” she said.

In addition to their robotics project, both teams entered an innovation project into the competition which showcased a technology that would encourage people to be physically active. Year 7 students Isabella Morkos and Tiffany Au worked on one such project.

“We created a game where, if you lose or get tagged at certain points, you have to do physical activity such as squats or weight lifting in order to recharge your ‘energy’ in the game,” Isabella said.

Mr Ben Robson, Tech Club Coordinator and Coordinator of Learning Link – Online Learning, said the students are developing essential, future-proof skills through these STEM units.

“It is fantastic to see the girls working collaboratively week after week to solve problems and improve their designs,” he said.

“The teams demonstrated growth and resilience throughout the competition and their consistent support of each other in challenging circumstances is embodied in the quality of their designs.”

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