AARNet is a firm believer in providing children with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) -related knowledge, skills, challenges, and opportunities during their school years, so that they may pursue tertiary studies and careers in STEM if they wish to do so.
The National Innovation and Science Agenda unveiled by Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in December 2015 states that an estimated 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries require STEM-skilled workers, and ensuring students have the skills to equip them for the workforce of the future is critical.
The Government is investing $48 million over five years to inspire Australians of all ages to engage with STEM and pursue further study in this area.
FIRST robotics programs develop STEM skills
One program that is experiencing a surge in interest by schools and University-supported teams in the AARNet community across Australia is FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
This is an internationally renowned series of programs, launched and run in Australia by Macquarie University, to inspire a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and nurture the problem solving and creative capacity in young people.
There are several FIRST programs designed for different age groups, from pre-schoolers to university students: Junior FIRST LEGO League, FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition and Robo Camps.
Mentors play a vital role
AARNET staff join many other volunteer professional mentors who sponsor, support and guide teams of students in the FIRST Robotics Competition. A new game is created each year, and challenges teams of students to design, prototype, construct and test a robot so it can perform prescribed tasks against thousands of competitors.
The 2016 season kicked off on 9 January and the robot build is underway. We’re mentoring a Barker College (an AARNet-connected Sydney school) team of high schoolers and are blown away by their ideas, technical skills, creativity and commitment to the task at hand – the robot must be completed by mid February! The FRC Regional Competition will be held at Sydney Olympic Park 17-19 March. Stay tuned for competition updates.
When children engage in STEM activities they can do amazing things. FIRST Robotics teaches children how to be creators of technology instead of just consumers of it, and provides them with experience in communication, teamwork, leadership, initiative, and many other skills vital for their futures.
Image: AARNet is mentoring the Barker College Robotics team for the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition. The team has only 6 weeks to design, prototype and build their robot.