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Springbank High robotics program one of western Canada's best

Every robot is made for a purpose, and for the Springbank Community High School robotics team and innovation lab, that purpose is the shaping of its members’ characters and careers.
Springbank High SRT-1 team at the recent FIRST Tech Challenge Southern Alberta Championship.

While a robot may not have goals, motivations or interests, its creators certainly do. 

Every robot is made for a purpose, and for the Springbank Community High School robotics team and innovation lab, that purpose is the shaping of its members’ characters and careers.

“Our robotics program ties in entrepreneurship, design-based thinking, and hands-on building, automation, and design processes,” explained Springbank Community High’s science and robotics teacher, Bobby Mathew. “Teamwork ties in with the entrepreneurship.”

Mathew founded the Springbank High robotics team and innovation lab program six years ago. He said the program puts a new, futuristic spin on the traditional industrial ed. programs one might have found in small-town, rural Alberta schools 40 years ago. But instead of saws, welders and hydraulic cylinders, Springbank High’s robotics team uses 3D printers, laser-cutters, and CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) technology.

“There was a whole aspect of design-based learning and engineering where students couldn’t include a lot of creativity in the program,” Mathew recalled. “What I realized (six years ago) is we have got to take industrial ed. from the best of 1980s, modernize it for today, and then future-proof it so these kids cannot be replaced (by overseas outsourcing).”

To this end, Mathew said his students do not merely take prepackaged robots from build kits and assemble them in a paint-by-numbers sort of way. Rather, they are expected to work in teams to create their own designs, fabricate their own components to assemble, and provide their own coding to make the robots autonomously able to complete specific tasks.

“We heavily modify and make things that are unique and different,” Mathew explained. “The kids learn all these different skills of how to CAD (do Computer Aided Design), code and build a robot, design a robot. We are designing robots that are (normally) fourth- or fifth-year post-secondary levels.”

According to Mathew, another element of Springbank Community High’s robotics program is entrepreneurship. The program costs $10,000 to $20,000 per year and is largely funded by donations. Students are expected to raise funds so they can build their robots for “First Tech Challenge” regional, provincial, national, and even global competitions. The program also works closely with a few key corporate donors.

“FIRST Tech Challenge teams (in the robotics program) are responsible for obtaining funds to sustain their teams,” he said. “Most teams secure funding through a combination of grants, fundraising activities, and sponsorships/private donations. While many teams seek funding for just one year, long-term funding can ensure there's continuing support for your team. Robots are expensive, but creating a strong entrepreneurial environment for students is an essential 21st-century skill that can be learned and earned.” 

Mathew said what has been most gratifying about the program is seeing how the info students learn in his classes can be applied in those competitions. The Springbank High SRT 1 (senior) team has the most points in these competitions out of any team in western Canada. The SRT 3 team (junior) is ranked eighth. Both teams were going to provincials on March 3 (after press time). The SRT 2 team has been recognized provincially for its originality in creative design.

“This competition really solidifies their education in so many ways,” he stated. “It takes the best of their math and their science, and their design and their art. It makes for real-world applications of their curriculum. So, for example, we are doing inverse kinematics in high school, but a real-world application in coding of their physics and their math.”

Mathew is also proud of the overall success of the program during the last six years, with former students going on to have outstanding post-secondary careers in fields like engineering, biogenetics, and programming.

“Springbank Robotics Team (SRT)  is an amazing group of enthusiastic young students who love robotics, design, engineering, and entrepreneurship,” he said. 

To view a YouTube link that explains more about Springbank Community High School’s Robotics Team and Innovation Lab, visit Robotics - SCHS & SRT(Springbank Robotic Team) Who We Are - YouTube.

Tim Kalinowski

About the Author: Tim Kalinowski

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