Girls from King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham have had their first taste of building and operating their own robots and programming them to navigate a winding course towards a coveted box of chocolates.
During the Robotics Day, organised by education firm Bright Futures, groups of Year 9s first learned about the history of robots. They were then given the basic components and followed detailed instructions to build jeep-style vehicles. Using laptops, they wrote a code which was uploaded onto the robot, designed to make it weave in and out between a series of coloured balls. The final stage of the challenge was to ensure that the robot just touched the chocolates at the end of the course without moving them more than a centimetre or two. This demanded precision and fine tuning with plenty of trial and error.
“It was great fun to build a vehicle from scratch” said Danielle Russell, 14, a member of the winning group. “We found the coding part quite difficult, measuring the angles and trying to get the right distances so that the vehicle just nudged the box of chocolates and scarcely pushed it at all. We really enjoyed the chocolates though!”
The hands-on side is important as we are a highly academic school and solving real problems gives everyone an idea of what a career in robotics could be like.
“Hearing about robots that could be programmed to walk upstairs was so cool,” added her teammate Salihah Baig, 14. “Learning about coding was fascinating and I liked listening to all the different ideas and ways to make the prototype better, then using teamwork to put them into practice. Lots of us are really interested in subjects like Physics and Engineering and the day broadened my view of Robotics and the sort of careers opening up in this whole area.”
KEHS has always had a strong tradition of Maths and the Sciences, bucking the national trends where girls are under-represented in Science: among this year’s record-breaking A Level cohort, over 50% of the school’s entries were for STEM subjects and over half the students will go on to study a science-related degree, including ten who have won places for Medicine at top universities. Two pupils will even be studying male-dominated Computer Science courses, including Melissa Yao who has won a coveted place at Queen’s College, Cambridge. KEHS Physics teacher Dr Stephanie Hayton believes that events like the Robotics Day can often inspire youngsters by sparking interest in areas they had not previously considered.
“Five years ago an Engineering day we staged opened one girl’s eyes to the whole subject,” she said. “She was fascinated by it and went on to do Engineering at Cambridge. Watching the excited faces as our girls got the chance to build their own robot, programme it, then test the prototype and recalibrate to keep improving it made you realise just how this brought robotics alive for them. The hands-on side is important as we are a highly academic school and solving real problems gives everyone an idea of what a career in robotics could be like.”