Robots, codes and engineers

Oakgrove Integrated Primary School was reminiscent of BBC2 series ‘Robot Wars’ this week.

On Thursday morning the school’s assembly hall was littered with small robots and they had all been programmed by primary school children of all ages.

Pictured during the Robotic Workshop held by STEM Aware for P6 pupils art Oakgrove Integrated Primary School were, from left, front row, Hollie Rodgers, Oakgrove Integrated College, who was one of the mentors for the day, and Christian Slater, back row, James McGurk, P6 teacher, Peter Waugh, from Sentinus, Roisin Crawford, STEM Aware, and Reed Allen. INLS1214-108KM

Pictured during the Robotic Workshop held by STEM Aware for P6 pupils art Oakgrove Integrated Primary School were, from left, front row, Hollie Rodgers, Oakgrove Integrated College, who was one of the mentors for the day, and Christian Slater, back row, James McGurk, P6 teacher, Peter Waugh, from Sentinus, Roisin Crawford, STEM Aware, and Reed Allen. INLS1214-108KM

Thursday marked what is known as a ‘STEM Awareness Day’ at the school and the robotics workshop was facilitated by Lisburn based STEM education organisation, Sentinus.

The entire day was managed by a local organisation called STEM Aware.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and whilst it is not officially part of the Key Stage Two curriculum, many schools in the North of Ireland are opting to offer their pupils the chance to experience STEM subjects as the employment opportunities are encouraging.

Mr. Paul McKernan is Key Stage Two Co-ordinator at Oakgrove Integrated P.S. and he explained why the school decided to embrace STEM subjects.

“We have been exposing the children to STEM for a few years now and the response has been extremely positive.

“The children enjoy the practical side of learning and what makes it extremely beneficial is the fact that when they move on to secondary and grammar schools they have good experience of STEM subjects,” he said.

Thursday’s event saw primary school children work alongside Year 10 students from Oakgrove Integrated College.

Each group of students was given a small robotic device. The students connected the device to a laptop computer and programmed the device by entering code.

The robotic device was then placed on the floor and in order for the group to complete the exercise they had to make sure the device completed a small circuit.

“It’s a superb opportunity for primary school children,” said STEM Aware engineer, Roisin Crawford.

“It baffles me that STEM isn’t on the official Key Stage Two curriculum.

“STEM opens a wide variety of subjects and activities to primary school children. Think about it, when you were at school did you ever get the chance to learn to write computer code and control a robot.

“It’s great to see young children inspired by things like engineering and Mathematics,” said Roisin.

Ten year-old primary six students Oonagh Payne said taking part in STEM Awareness classes was something she looked forward to every week and said Thursday’s robotics workshop has made her think about a career in engineering.

“Mrs. Crawford is great to work with and she makes learning about STEM subjects a lot of fun.

“I suppose the good thing about STEM subjects is that we learn by actually doing something.

“Yesterday two engineers from St. Columb’s Park came into our school to give us a talk about what they do. I found it very inspiring.

“I have another year of primary school to do before I leave Oakgrove but taking part in STEM Awareness had made me want to keep up and interest when I leave here in a few years,” said Oonagh.

Oonagh’s team mate, nine year-old, Aodhan Friel said STEM Awareness was his favourite part of the week and added that he hoped in the future to go on and become an engineer.

“I am not sure what kind of engineer I am going to be but I love the STEM subjects so much it is something that I dearly want to do when I get older.

“I have really enjoyed working with our mentors from Oakgrove College - they have been a great help and when I go on to a bigger school I would like to help out primary school pupils too,” he said.

Oakgrove Integrated P.S. vice principal Niall Gill said he was delighted the school was working along with Roisin’s STEM Aware organisation and explained that the school had high hopes for the future.

“What we are trying to do here is give our children as much of an advantage as possible when they leave here.

“Working alongside Roisin’s ‘STEM Aware’ group has been great for the school - she is so knowledgeable and passionate about STEM and the children look forward to their STEM Aware classes every week,” he said.

If you would like to contact STEM Aware visit their website www.stemaware.com; Twitter: @StemAware or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/stemaware.