Working Models At St Augustine's


Each year we have teams that have entered STEM MAD, a program for Catholic Schools developed by Melbourne Archdiocese, where students use their STEM skills to 'Make a Difference' (MAD).

Many of the innovations developed by teams of students in the past were fantastic. For example, a way to protect the environment or assist someone with a specific disability.

However, many of the teams had not taken their ideas beyond the concept level, with just a few labelled diagrams on posters. They were showing what they would have like to have developed if they were in a position, to actually make working models.

St Augustine's has had a robotics program for the last decade and a big focus on coding. This gave the students confidence in their ability to not only generate an invention that could make a difference, but also create a working prototype for each solution.

The technology we chose to enable the students to make a machine was a combination Raspberry Pi and Grove Sensors. This was new technology for us, and neither I or the students were confident and we knew we were in for a steep learning curve. Fortunately, we had just been chosen to partner with ScienceWorks and felt comforted that we could draw upon their expertise.

In no time, Covid hit us. With students moving to remote learning, this presented significant challenges to support the student teams. Special kits of sensors, wires, motors etc were quickly assembled for the students, so they could work on their projects from home. It was interesting how Covid became the focus of the student innovations. Students developed machines such as a Hands Free Sanitiser dispenser or a device with a sensor that gave a verbal reminder to wear a mask each time you left your house.

Auto dispensing Toilet roll

Door Sensor - reminding you to wear a mask.

No Touch Sanitiser Dispenser

ScienceWorks also showed the same flexibility as the students. With their doors shut ScienceWorks created virtual excursions, and enlisted our students to trial them and give feedback.

Emilie from ScienceWorks also came to the school when we were given the all clear, to share her knowledge of using Makey Makey as a switching device.

So, despite the turbulence of 2020, we achieved our goals and benefited immensely from the friendly, supportive and knowledgeable guidance provided by ScienceWorks.

We did create working models for the STEM MAD competition in 2020 and had many winning teams. We found a wonderful support partnership from ScienceWorks, even if it was a long way away from the program they envisaged before Covid.

However, use of Raspberry Pi and Grove Sensors still requires a massive learning curve to effectively use in the making of prototype machines, with many groups choosing to duck back to the familiar technology of Lego Robotics.

Chris James

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