What an honour to help infect 10.000 students with the STEM virus!

Dwengo vzw and SheGoesICT aim at inspiring pupils from the 5th and 6th grade with their passion for STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the European Code Week of October 2018 they’ll launch the WeGoSTEM initiative again. They aim at reaching no less than 10.000 pupils and have them build and program their own drawing robot. I am very happy to be part of this exciting event as one of 750 volunteers!

The workshop format is very well prepared: in the months preceeding the code week, volunteers and schools can subscribe. Then volunteer teams are composed and assigned to schools. These volunteers take a quick train-the-trainer introduction (including a cheat sheet 😄), to achieve a very smooth run-up to the final goal: the workshop day!

The day of the workshop

Together with Joost and Jeroen, I carpool from Leuven to a small cosy school in Nossegem, where we are welcomed by the principal and the teachers of the 5th and 6th grade. Boxes with laptops, WeGoSTEM kits and extension cables were already delivered at the school, along with a goodie bag for the volunteers. And then … have a coffee and wait for the first class to arrive.

Step 1: Hello mister robot

Joost, Jeroen and I introduce ourselves to the children as their WeGoSTEM coaches, we briefly talk about robots; what is a robot, what kind of robots do they know, what are robots used for,… The discussion goes from Roomba to cyborgs!

Step 2: Program a human robot

Before starting with the real hardware, we first introduce the concept of programming by having 1 student instruct the other students – robots – and make some hand drawings. They quickly understand the importance of clear and precise instructions. A drawing with a circle next to a square next to a triangle can look surprisingly different without further clarification: different sizes, different positions, different compositions,…

Step 3: Build and program a drawing robot

Then finally the most exciting moment: opening the WeGoSTEM kit with plastic slats, screws, 2 little DC motors and of course a Dwenguino (an open, multi-functional Arduino compatible microcontroller) board! The children build a little robot with plastic arms, controlled by 2 DC motors. They use Dwenguino Blockly, a graphical programming language to first have the Dwenguino display their names. Fun anecdote: 2 rascals confused us a little bit when they programmed the Dwenguino to display their names as error.

Next they experiment with the DC motors and their speed, making the plastic robot arms move. Imagine how all those eyes start shining when you put a marker in the upper arm, and the robot starts to draw a work of art! Some children even have some time to experiment with for-loops and conditions like pressing a button.

Step 4: Finish the art work

By the end of our workshop, all children finish 1 final piece of robot art on an official WeGoSTEM poster, which they can take home with them. This is strongly emphasised by WeGoSTEM, what matters most is the success experience. Experiencing that they can all build and program a robot, executing their instructions, and making something beautiful they can actually hold in their hands. It’s great to see how that triggers so many smiles and shiny eyes.

Step 5: Clean desk

As every good developer knows: cleaning up and keeping things tidy is essential, so that is also what the children do in the last step. They clear the Dwenguino, disassemble their robot and put all parts back in the boxes, ready to surprise another class of excited children.

Eventually the bell rings and the children run off to their playground, but not before thanking us for the great workshop they had. Wow, that makes you feel good!

Lessons learned

We were with three volunteers and gave two workshops of about 1.5 hours, with 22 and 13 children. In the morning session with 22 students we barely finished the workshop. It took a lot of time to guide all of them through the set-up, and sadly there was no time to let them play around.

In the afternoon we only had 13 students and had some freestyle time, allowing the children to have even more fun.

The teachers also saw this black box of programming and robots open up, and are curious to get to know more about it. There’s a lot of satisfaction to get when you notice how quickly children understand and learn, and see them getting so excited by STEM. Being a woman myself, of course I noticed how many girls feel appealed to this drawing robot and are triggered to dive deeper in this stimulating topic!

I enjoyed giving the training with Joost and Jeroen. As we discussed in the car on our way back, by definition whoever volunteers in this WeGoSTEM initiative is cool 😄

I want to end my blog by thanking Dwengo vzw and SheGoesICT for this great initiative and the splendid job they do in organising this huge event!

Looking forward to the 2019 edition!

Are you infected too? Go check out WeGoSTEM

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