September 13, 2023
Building robots to learn STEM
Bulli High School and UOW Makerspace partner to fuel STEM enthusiasm through combat robotics challenge
An innovative STEM partnership has taken root in the Illawarra as local high school students embarked on an experiential learning adventure into the world of combat robotics. The initiative is a collaboration between Bulli High School and the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Makerspace, a place for students to explore their creative side using technology.
At the end of August, 21 students hailing from three local high schools – Bulli, Keira and Kanahooka – had the opportunity to visit UOW Makerspace to design and construct combat robots for the upcoming Multiverse Challenge 23 competition, to be hosted at Bulli High School in December.
The brainchild of two Bulli High School teachers, Nik Brankovic and David Strange, this partnership has aimed to nurture students' mathematical acumen and give them insight into career opportunities within STEM fields, bridging the gap between secondary school and university.
Dr Jon Roberts, Lecturer in Fluid Mechanics at UOW's School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering, collaborated with the school to develop a one-of-a-kind robotics kit for the students and then facilitated the STEM challenge at UOW Makerspace.
"The program we created was a little more advanced, as we thought we’d be working with older age groups, but we were delighted that the students managed so well, and it was both educational and fun. We just had to give them more assistance with wiring and programming.
“It’s been a unique experience compared to traditional STEM kits, as we've used Arduino microcontroller development boards, which offer a versatile foundation for various electronics and robotics projects. In fact, you could build anything out of them,” Dr Roberts said.
When asked about the potential impact of this challenge, Dr Roberts added that such interactive learning activities not only teach students STEM skills, but also allow them to practise teamwork, creative thinking and other life skills.
Bulli High School's students, Jack Rumery and Luke Towner, both from Year 8, have worked together to create a combat robot equipped with a large scoop, which – as they hope – will help them to win the Multiverse Challenge 23 competition in December. While Luke’s career dreams involve software engineering and potentially studying at UOW, Jack enjoyed the challenge despite not planning to work in technology but custom furniture-making. Both students said that they loved learning and working outside of the classroom.
Nik Brankovic, Bulli High School teacher and one of the coordinators for this project, praised the program’s experiential and multidisciplinary nature.
“The robotics kits they were given don’t use pre-modelled components like Lego and require students to code, 3D print and modify their own designs. This Combat Robotics program effectively is a STEM program – it touches multiple subjects, it is entirely student driven and allows the students to be creative in its design. UOW Makerspace was amazing at designing such a hands-on experience for our students and inspiring them and guiding to get on with the challenge,” Mr Brankovic said.
Dr Tiffani Apps, Senior Lecturer at the School of Education and the Associate Academic Program Director of Digital Technologies for Learning, said that the University was delighted to welcome high-school students to UOW Makerspace and engage them in an authentic and fun STEM experience.
“These early experiences with STEM can shape aspirations, which are an important indicator for a young person’s trajectory to study a STEM-related degree at university. The connections that students make by engaging in an authentic STEM experience like the Combat Robotics program are extremely valuable, as they learn STEM skills, meet other students with similar interests and experience learning at UOW.”