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Elementary students build battle robots at SFU

Battle royale part of ongoing series of workshops to get kids involved in STEM

“It’s awesome because robots.”
“It’s awesome because robots.”
Image Credits: Tatum Miller

SFU hosted a two-day workshop at the Surrey campus for elementary school students from Surrey. The program, running March 23 and 24, was a partnership between SFU’s Faculty of Applied Science, Surrey Schools, and the HR MacMillan Space Centre.

The Sticks And Stars and Girls In Action programs this year will welcome 150 boys and 150 girls in grades 4–6 to SFU to learn coding, robotics, and teamwork while building robots out of Lego bricks.

The program is intended to familiarise these students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The Sticks and Stars program has brought over 560 boys to SFU since its creation in 2012, and the Girls in Action has brought over 300 girls since its creation in 2015.

“We want to bring [elementary students] to campus to give them experience with technology and expose them to positive role models,” said Daniela Abasi, the Faculty of Applied Science Outreach Program Manager.

On the last day of the workshop, the boys and girls had a battle royale with their robots, in a sumo-style competition where one robot tries to push the other out of the ring.

“It’s very similar to MSE 110 I took, without the complex coding,” according to Rana Hassan, third-year Mechatronics Engineering student who was part of the team of SFU student facilitators.

“The students were very creative with weapons,” Hassan continued. One group made a “hammer-type thing,” which was very impressive.

“A lot of kids built better robots than I did [in MSE110],” said Sharry Shabbir, a fourth-year Software Systems student who also helped to facilitate the program. For him, it was a “great opportunity to develop leadership
[. . .] and teaching skills.”

The most rewarding part for Mircea Taras, second-year Computing Science major at SFU, was learning to “explain difficult concepts in simple terms.”

The attendees were incredibly enthusiastic once the sumo battles started. A round-robin followed by single elimination eventually determined the winner.

Regardless of which team won, if the elementary students “left, knowing something about coding, with a better understanding of computing science and SFU, then our job is done”, said Harp Parmar, recent SFU grad and facilitator.

“Kids have an idea of engineering but not computing science,” noted Parmar, and through this program they “realize that building a robot is more than just the physical object.” Learning about robots also means learning how to code, as an integral part of making the machine move is through coding.

When asked about their experience with this program, the elementary students’ response was overwhelmingly positive:

“It’s awesome because robots.”

“It was really good learning to code.”

“It’s good because we won [. . .] the best part was beating the other team.”

“I learned robots take patience.”

“The best part was robots fighting.”

One elementary school student said that his library teacher had given them an understanding of robots, and this program furthered their knowledge of the process by showing them  “how to attach parts [. . .] and use coding.”

The program will continue in the summer, with dates scheduled for July 4 — 5 and also on the 6 — 7.