St. Paul girls power school’s robotics team

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Emily Barraclough is a rarity at robotics competitions — she’s a girl.

The St. Paul Catholic Elementary School Grade 6 student knows few young females enjoy constructing robots as much as she does.

However, that trend seems to be changing at St. Paul. The school has two LEGO robotics teams — one is a 13-member boys squad, the other is an 11-member all-girls group. The teams competed at the York First LEGO League Qualifier in Markham last week.

Though neither advanced in the provincial competition, the girls won a Design and Strategy award, while the boys earned a Presentation trophy. St. Paul entered the only all-girls team.

The girls built a robot capable of teaching cursive writing, while the boys designed an aptitude test.

“It’s so neat what you can do,” Barraclough said. “I’ve seen alarm clocks that run away from you in the morning and robot vacuum cleaners — I want to build something cool. Our robot is so unique; you’re going to need a cursive signature on any legal document … but nobody uses it anymore.”

Both teams constructed their robots over a nearly six-week period.

“I’m very creative and I love to build things,” Grade 7 student Speranza Martin said. “I was surprised by how much you can do with so few pieces. We put so many ideas into this.”

Four years ago, the school started the robotics squad but organizers had difficulty recruiting girls. Now, they’ve got enough to form one of the few female LEGO teams in Ontario.

The robots are constructed almost entirely out of LEGO, with building kits, including computerized components such as motion and sound sensors.

“We’ve expanded to two teams now,” Grade 5 teacher Delvin Chomiak said.

“It’s a great way to extend both our math and science programs. It’s a lot of problem solving and you get to design a robot. They’re given a few thousand pieces of LEGO and they can build any type of robot they want. There’s never two of the same robots.”

The team also encourages the development of co-operation and critical thinking skills, he said.

“There seems to be some stereotype still that girls are better at language and boys are better at math and science,” Chomiak said. “This completely shatters that myth. It showcases their ability to succeed.”


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