ATHABASCA — Around 150 students from all over Aspen View Public Schools had their coding skills put to the test on May 8 through a series of age-appropriate technology-related challenges, all of which formed part of the division’s second annual robotics competition.
The event, which was hosted at Edwin Parr Composite (EPC) in Athabasca, featured teams of students from Whispering Hills Primary School, Thorhild Central School, Boyle School, Vilna School, Grassland School, H.A. Kostash School in Smoky Lake, Landing Trail Intermediate School (LTIS), Smith School and Rochester School.
During the Aspen View board meeting on May 4, director of information technology services Ernest Aleixandre and associate superintendent of curriculum and technology Katherine Mann told trustees about what challenges students faced at the event.
Division 1 students, for instance, had to direct a little robot “mouse” through a maze by coding in specific sequences and movements, while Division 2 students had to complete a “pizza delivery” challenge where they had to build a track and program the robot to move along it.
Division 3 students were faced with a “follow the line” challenge where they had to find specific coding blocks to program a robot’s sensors so it could move along a specific route and make course corrections.
Finally, Division 4 students had to complete a fairly complex “rebound” challenge where they had to program a robot to hit a ball and move between lines to score points.
There was also a fun challenge where students had to remote control robots with pins attached in order to pop balloons attached to other robots.
Aleixandre said he had been to the first competition in 2022, which was hosted at Thorhild Central School, and the best way to describe the mood there was “electric.”
Noting that last year’s competition featured around 300 students, Mann said the event was scaled down this year to make it a bit more manageable.
The smaller size also meant that schools had to limit participation to the kids who were most interested in robotics, she indicated.
At the event itself, EPC teacher John Traynor acted as master of ceremonies and an unofficial cheerleader, going around to the various areas where students were working with their robots and trying to pump them up.
“It sure was a lot of fun for the little guys,” he said, in an interview following the event.
Noting that he has been teaching for roughly 26 years, Traynor said this was his first real exposure to robotics, and he was impressed with the teamwork and general sense of good sportsmanship.
"It was a very well-run event for a lot of kids who wouldn’t normally get the spotlight,” he said.
During some initial comments at the outset, Supt. Neil O’Shea mentioned he was approached by a teacher about five years ago with the idea of incorporating the popular video game Minecraft into the curriculum.
Initially, he didn’t think much about the idea, but then he started to learn about how Minecraft could be used to teach kids about coding.
“Coding is the important piece. It’s what makes technology run. And I know all the way from Whispering Hills to where we are today, there’s all kinds of coding lessons that are going on,” he said.