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Robots at Woodland

Written on April 3rd, 2014

“What happens in the robotics club is some of the most dynamic learning that I have seen in schools,” says John Van Pelt, Principal at Woodland Christian High School. “There are so many aspects of this club that provide opportunity to students. They collaborate in the planning, building, programming, and performance of a robot with a very specific function and they are involved in the fundraising and promotion of the club.”

The website for the CyberCavs (Woodland Christian High School’s robotics club) serves as a learning scrapbook of sorts—with photos and videos that document projects in progress, first try demonstrations and short experiments.

In one video clip, the team tests the strength of a pulley created with a 3D printer.

“This piece of wood, one meter long, will have weights added to it in this box,” says one student, motioning to a container hanging from one end of the wooden plank. “We will record how many weights and the weight of the wood. And that will tell us, with some calculation, how much weight these pulleys can take.”

Despite her no-nonsense tone, videos on the website suggest that the world of robotics is a place for playful, creative learning.

At 2.5 kg the plank of wood drops to the floor and the team decides that the loose belt around the pulley needs to be tightened—something that their instructor suggests might help them when they build their robot. “Isn’t science fun?” he says a few seconds before the video ends and the wooden plank begins to crack. (Impressively, the 3D printed pulley’s teeth remain perfectly in tact.)

The video provides viewers with just a taste of what it takes to build a robot—a collaborative endeavor that the Woodland CyberCavs took on for this year’s First Robotics Canada (FRC) competition, held from March 21-22, in the University of Waterloo’s first class high-tech corridor. Known as the “varsity sport for the mind” the competition brought together over 30 teams from across Ontario to participate in a series of games for remote-control robots.

Each robot was to be constructed out of basic parts in just six weeks, with the help of one or two engineering mentors. The experience, says the team, was both stressful and exciting. All of the members had to work hard; building the robot’s components, writing computer code to ensure that it was properly automated and designing the systems it would need to play Aerial Assist— a game where players form alliances with other teams in order to pass, throw and score their ball. (Visitors to the high school’s Facebook page can see a YouTube clip of the robot in action, as it picks up  a large purple ball with ease and throws it into a lit up goal.)

That hard work will be showcased for an even wider audience from April 3-4, as the CyberCavs compete in their second FRC Robotics tournament at the University of Windsor.

Considering how absent Christian schools have been from such events in the past, the team’s 
participation alone is something to celebrate, says Derek Schuurman, Computer Science Professor at Redeemer University.

Schuurman views both competitions as a great forum for Christian schools to gain wider public visibility and as excellent opportunities for students to interact with peers from public schools.

“Just as with our sports teams, a robotics competition provides an opportunity to display integrity in competition, humility in victory, grace in defeat, and respect for others,” he adds.

While not every robotics project leads to a cheering audience, Schuurman hopes that students with a passion for technology will be encouraged to develop their gifts—especially within the realm of faith based education, where opportunities to enrich culture and “contribute to shalom” should be plentiful.

“Christian schools should not only be users of technology, but ought to engage the world of technology by learning how to shape it,” he says. “Rather than just being consumers of technology, we can challenge students to be culture makers.”

To visit the the Woodland Robotics website check out: www.