Programming the Pizazz robots at Balata High School

Throughout the world, in subjects like computer studies, programming robots is becoming increasingly common. As part of an outreach project supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan, students from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), designed, developed and implemented a classroom activity that explored the use of Pizazz robots to teach students on how to program using two programming languages – Python and ScratchGPIO. The robots use the Raspberry Pi and also have sensors and wifi on board.

Geoff Polzin, Matthew Turner and Matthew Brown led the QUT team and were supported by Dr Richard Medland, Danielle Wales and Mary Mosquera. Srikanth Venugopal – an IT teacher at Redbank Plains High School and Shalvin Deo – a recent graduate in IT from the University of Queensland, started the initial work on these robots for the Balata Project. Support of the Principal Segran Pillay and his staff Shivani Kiran and Sanjan Chetty for this activity was truly appreciated.

The activities designed by the team went beyond what is stipulated in the Year 11 computer studies syllabus in Fiji. Geoff, Matt and Matt implemented an activity that could be a first for Fiji. Their unwavering commitment to designing activities that were meaningful to the students in Fiji is highly commendable. Not knowing the classroom clientele is always a challenge but the team managed it very well.

Here are the reflections of the QUT students of their engagement:

Geoff Polzin’s reflections

Geoff is completing is Degree in Information Technology.

Students testing out their robots

Students testing out their robots

This trip was probably the most amazing experience of my life (9.8/10 – because no perfect scores). The highlight of the trip for me was the incredible enthusiasm that the students brought into the classroom. There was never a moment when I felt that they’d lost interest, and on several occasions they even volunteered to stay back over lunch to keep working on the problems that we’d set. Further, the students surpassed our (ever higher) expectations at each stage and as a result we were able to progress beyond our initial planned activities and cover almost a third of a semester worth of university-level content in only four days.

The takeaway for me though was the continuing importance of ICT education in Fiji. This became very clear after going to Toko primary school to help address some of their networking issues. It was there that I learnt of the incredibly high costs associated with getting any type of ICT work done in Fiji and fully realized the importance of the goal that we’re all working towards.

On a personal note though, I’m incredibly thankful to everyone from all of the schools we visited for being so incredibly welcoming and helpful and I hope to visit again soon.

Matthew Turner’s reflections

Matt facilitating one of the groups with their task

Matt facilitating one of the groups with their task

At Balata, I would have to say teaching my small class with Geoff was the greatest thing I’ve done in a while.  Teaching was not something I ever considered but from this opportunity I have realized that I genuinely enjoy it.  My only regret was that I only got to teach for four days.  Furthermore, it was a great experience to see how enthusiastic the kids got when they finally got the robots moving despite all the network complications.

Overall I would have to say this was a once in a lifetime experience

This entry was posted in 2015, Balata High School, Computer Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

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