Secondary School Robot Challenge

Today, our first year undergraduates physics students taught their own group of year 9 students from Outwood City School to build and program robots to find their way around a maze. The undergraduate students spent many weeks in our labs learning to program the robots with the aim of working in groups to create a fun and educational session for the year 9 students. Each group came up with their own approach and the event was well received by all, which is a credit to our excellent first years.

You might be asking what robots has to do with physics. Well, many physics students go on to do technical roles that involve programming, such as, working in banks, physical modelling and software development. The programming of the robots has given the students an introduction to programming concepts, from loops and conditional statements to modularisation and object orientation, key building blocks for more advanced programming.

As well as learning to program, the robots receive inputs from various sensors, these include; touch/bump sensors; acoustic distance sensors; colour sensors; and gyro sensors. These sensors all rely on physical/engineering principles and this starts to develop the skills needed to understand the interaction between instruments and computer equipment which control most modern experiments.

Furthermore, this is intrinsically a team activity supporting team building and, with the teaching aspect to the year 9 students, gives the added experience of learning how to teach.

A huge thanks has to go the Venture Matrix team at Sheffield Hallam, who work alongside private, public and third party organisations from the local, national and international community to provide students with the opportunity to work on real life activities. Also, to Alex Crombie who did an amazing job in helping the first years to construct their session plans.