STEM

Local Educational Initiatives

Digital Technologies Advisory Committee

Created by STEM teachers and facilitators, the Digital Technologies Advisory Committee (DTAC) meets fortnightly in Wangaratta. Visit DTAC online to see which items are in its Digital Resource Library or to keep abreast of upcoming events and workshops.

Regional STEM Centre

The Regional STEM Centre is an initiative of Wodonga Senior Secondary College and the Wodonga Federation of Government Schools, in partnership with Quantum Victoria. Read more about the creation of the centre and its vision to create a regional community invigorated by STEM in ‘Regional educators sharing STEM expertise‘, published in Teacher magazine on 27 February 2018.

Events

Digital Harvest

Local educators will have a great opportunity to explore innovations in STEM/STEAM at Digital Harvest, a regional teacher-led conference to be held in Wangaratta on Friday 29 March 2019. Participants will be able to access educational innovators, inspirational thinkers, creative content and practical workshops without having to travel to a metropolitan city! Keynote speakers include Brett Moller, Director of Digital Services at St Andrew’s Institute of Learning, Queensland, and David Williams, Education Officer—Digital Technologies, Catholic Education Diocese of Sandhurst.

Regional Champions Program

Another upcoming local training opportunity is the Regional Champions Program, a six-session course being held in Wangaratta between April and September 2019. This course will explore how existing iPads can be used to accelerate opportunities for creative engagement while allowing participants to establish lasting connections with other local educators in the group.

Girls in Physics Breakfast

A series of Girls in Physics breakfasts will be held across Victoria during the month of May. On Friday 24 May 2019, female students from schools in the Albury/Wodonga area will be able to listen to women speaking about working in industry in physics-related careers. For more information, see the Vicphysics Teachers’ Network.

Competitive Robotics FAQs

What is competitive robotics?

The study of competitive robotics not only encompasses all four pillars of STEM education, but also encourages important life skills like teamwork, communication, and project-based organisation. The Robotics Education & Competition Foundation brings competitive robotics experiences to students all over the world through the VEX IQ Challenge, VEX Robotics Competition, and VEX U. On this page we will focus on the competitive robotics divisions for primary and secondary students.

What is happening locally with competitive robotics?

A surging interest in competitive robotics in North East Victoria and on the Border over the past three years has led to significant success for our region’s teams on the national and international stage.

At the 2018 Australian VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) Nationals, held in Melbourne from 30 November to 2 December, teams from Wangaratta, Wodonga and Albury were so successful that they took out 15 of 39 awards, equivalent to 38% of the awards.

According to a TechDiversity Awards nomination submitted by Maree Timms, eLearning Co-ordinator at Galen College, North East Victoria is now the fastest growing region for VEX Robotics in the world, as noted by VEX Robotics leaders in both Australia and the USA.

Which local schools are leading the way?

The success of teams from Wodonga Middle Years College, St Anne’s Primary School in Albury and Galen Catholic College in Wangaratta at the 2018 Nationals means they will be competing at the 2019 VEX Robotics World Championships, to be held in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, in April 2019.

Galen College will be making their second appearance at the World Championships after competing there for the first time in 2018, when they won one of six service awards for the most helpful, co-operative and friendly team from a field of 600 international high schools. It’s the first time Australia has won an award at ‘the Worlds’ in the high school division—see STEM spotlight: rural students win big at ‘Robotics Olympics’; also see VEX Robotics video: VEX Worlds Galen Team.

Why are teams from our region being so successful?

An increased representation by local teams at the VRC Nationals in the past three years has no doubt contributed to their success, along with an increase in our region’s share of teams.

Which local teachers are leading the way?

Outstanding contributions by local teachers were recognised at the 2018 Nationals with three of our region’s teachers being awarded the ‘VRC Teachers of the Year Award’ for their contribution to the field and dedication to their students—Michael Rogers, of Wodonga Middle Years College; and Maree Timms and Brett Webber, both of Galen College. In addition, Belinda Moran, of St Anne’s Primary School in Albury, won ‘VEX Mentor of the Year’ in recognition of her commitment and passion for the school’s VEX Robotics program.

Maree’s award follows on from her 2017 ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ for all her work leading Galen students, giving them the opportunity to achieve; also for establishing VEX as a serious competition in North East Victoria. Maree was also involved with the facilitation of the 2016 and 2017 Nationals, both held in Wangaratta.

Who else is supporting the growth of competitive robotics in our region?

Another contributor to the growth of competitive robotics teams in the region has been the strong partnerships built between Galen Catholic College, Charles Sturt University (Wangaratta), the NE Tracks Local Learning and Employment Network, and GOTAFE (Wangaratta). This partnership between the local organisations is now called the Digital Technologies Advisory Committee (DTAC). Shortlisted at September’s TechDiversity Awards, DTAC was awarded the 2018 Victorian Innovation Minister’s Diversity Award (Highly Commended) for their innovation, courage and collaboration in helping increase awareness and interest in STEM.

For a detailed overview of the Galen VEX Robotics Program and how it evolved, and the teachers, key students and key partners who have been involved, read the TechDiversity Awards nomination submitted by Maree Timms.

The Ovens Murray Regional Partnership has also been a champion of the partnership between DTAC and Galen College, recently showcasing it as a national and international digital success story as a way of inspiring others in our region. Launched on 14 March 2019, the ‘From Wangaratta to Mars’ case study and summary video shows how Wangaratta’s DTAC and Galen College are working together and have had great success improving digital participation and building the skills of the next generation of innovators.

I work at a primary school, how can we get started in competitive robotics?

The VEX IQ Challenge provides primary and middle school students, from Grade 4 to Year 8, with open-ended robotics and research project challenges. Participants snap together VEX IQ parts and build a simple, powerful robot to explore open-ended challenges, which are designed to enhance their STEM skills.

Maree Timms advises that this ‘elementary’ section is perfect for primary schools, and believes the local primary school competition side will expand reasonably quickly with several regional primary schools either coming on board with VEX or showing interest. One local primary school already involved is St Anne’s Primary School in Albury, which fielded two teams of Grade 5 students in the 2018 Nationals. Both teams progressed to the finals, and one of the teams has now been given the opportunity to represent Australia at this year’s World Championships.

You don’t have to be an engineer or have technical skills to start and organize a VEX IQ Challenge team. To help your team begin, view How to Start and Organize a VEX IQ Challenge Team, which will guide you to online resources and step you through getting started; equipment your team will need; developing your team; designing, building and programming the robot; and getting ready for an event.

Maree gives a hot tip that, as of February–March 2019, a base VEX IQ kit is being sold half-price via the Australian Geographic shop. Maree says it is very similar to a VEX IQ Competition kit—minus a few sensors, the plastic storage tub/and rechargeable batteries and charger. To become competition ready, you would have to upgrade these—about an extra $50 per kit—via the VEX Shop.

According to the VEX Robotics website, VEX IQ serves as a great springboard into the VEX EDR platform as students grow older.

I work with middle school and high school students, how can we get started in competitive robotics?

One option is for Year 7 and 8 students to become involved in the VEX IQ Challenge, a competition for junior high school students (see above).

Another option is for students, from Grade 6 to Year 12, to become involved in the VEX Robotics Competition, the world’s largest and fastest growing middle school and high school robotics program. Each year it presents students with an engineering challenge in the form of a game. Students, with guidance from their teachers and mentors, build innovative robots and compete year-round.

To help your team begin, view How to Start and Organize a VEX Robotics Competition Team, which will guide you to online resources and step you through getting started; developing your team; equipment your team will need; designing, building and programming the robot; and getting ready for competition.

In this division, aluminum and steel parts are used, and the robots are built using the VEX EDR platform. To browse VEX EDR products, visit the VEX shop.

What are some options for schools becoming involved?

Options for schools becoming involved include developing an extracurricular activity/program, or integrating VEX Robotics into Year 8 and/or Year 9 robotics courses. Wodonga Middle Years College has developed a 12-month course for Year 8 students. The robotics students learn the fundamentals of robotics in the first half of the year, then use the second half of the year to build a competition-ready robot, which they use to compete in a series of competitions.

As found at Galen College, an advantage of retaining an extracurricular program is it allows students of different year levels to work together, enabling older students to mentor younger students. The college has also found that offering robotics and coding holiday programs for Grade 5 and 6 students can be an opportunity for team members to mentor and inspire younger students as well as develop their leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

What are some options for venues?

As happened at Galen Catholic College, your students might start out working/sharing in a science lab. As your school’s program grows, you may need to establish a dedicated VEX Room.

Who can hold robotics competitions in our region?

Michael Rogers, Maree Timms and Brett Webber have all been trained as Event Partners by VEX Australia, providing them with the skills and training required to hold regional competitions in the local region.

Where can I find some resources?

Maree Timms has kindly agreed to share digital resources—these VEX resources are accessible via her Google Drive.

Who can I contact locally for more information?

With student teams from Wodonga Middle Years College, Galen College and St Anne’s Primary School all heading to VEX Worlds, Maree Timms says that the three schools have plenty of experience and ideas between them, and that they all work closely together. Maree says she is happy to connect with any local STEM teachers who are considering getting their schools involved and is willing to answer any questions.

For teachers who are interested in getting their school involved, and want to explore this with local educators already using VEX Robotics, you may want to contact the following teachers:

  • Maree Timms and Brett Webber—Maree has been the driving force behind the VEX program at Galen Catholic College, and partners with Brett in all things VEX at the college
    Email Maree.Timms@galen.vic.edu.au
  • Michael Rogers, Wodonga Middle Years College—the ‘VEX extraordinaire’ at Wodonga
    Email mrogers@wmyc.vic.edu.au
  • Belinda Moran, St Anne’s Primary School, Albury
    Email moranb@ww.catholic.edu.au