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Challenge encourages students to STEM up


Sharlene King
19 June 2019

Robotics whizzes, young Einsteins and bright sparks from across northern NSW are gathering for the 2019 Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge at Southern Cross University, starting today (June 19).

The annual STEM showdown has for the first time a humanoid robot named Ami (pron: ar-me) to greet the students each morning of the six-day competition from June 19 to 26.

Presented with a series of tasks based on real-life challenges, more than 1500 students from 48 primary and high schools will experience aspects of science and engineering they would not usually see in the classroom.

“Students get to use their skills in problem-solving and teamwork and get a feel for considering STEM-based career choices,” said Associate Professor Amanda Reichelt-Brushett, Head of School of the School of Environment, Science and Engineering.

Southern Cross University in conjunction with Rotary Club of Alstonville is proud to host the 13th year of the Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge.

“Interest in the Challenge hasn’t diminished over time, in fact the event is fully booked each year. Schools from as far as Tenterfield in the west, Tweed Heads in the north and Grafton in the south will bus in to Lismore to compete for the regional Challenge prizes,” Dr Reichelt-Brushett said.

“This year we are excited to be offering Mindstorms LEGO robot building kits as prizes. These kits provide opportunities for innovative student thinking about building structures together with real-work robotics technology.”

The eight Challenge activities are:

BRIDGE - Build a small bridge from balsa, pins, tape, paddle pop sticks etc. Points are awarded for strength and load-carrying capacity (tested with dynamic loads).

FLAT-PACK - Students need to design and build a model table and chair. They must both be able to support the weight of Ginger and Spot, the family pets. It is important, however, that the furniture is cost effective to generate a profit when it is put into production.

CONFOUNDING COMMUNICATIONS - Each group of students will be provided with 2 terminals, which they will use to communicate with each other using various coloured light transmitted through an optical fibre. Students will be assessed on their speed and accuracy.

FUTURE POWER - Students plug ‘power stations’ into a large board and then control the supply of power to a variety of infrastructure on the other side of the board. The infrastructure is represented by lines of switches which are turned on or off by the students.

GRASPING AT STRAWS - Students are required to design, build and use a 'bionic hand' built from PVC pipe, string, straws, and timber coffee stirrers. Each group will then assess the effectiveness of their construction in several tests.

HELTER SKELTER SHELTER - Students construct a tall earthquake-proof tower using only basic materials, sound engineering principles, and ingenuity. At the end of the session the towers are put to the test on an earthquake simulator.

RETURN TO MARS - This activity requires students to construct a vehicle to quickly transverse an undulating surface. Students will use rubber bands for the suspension system.

STRINGWAYS - The aim of this half-day activity is to develop rail networks that convey trains in the most efficient way possible. The higher the efficiency of linkage (ie minimum travel distance) the more points your team earns.

For students whose passion is sparked at the Challenge, Southern Cross University has degrees in engineering and environmental and marine sciences where practical skills for real world solutions can be developed.

Southern Cross University’s commitment to schools in the region goes well beyond the Challenge and Discovery Day events and back to the classroom itself. The University has developed accredited programs for teacher training in STEM subjects (NSW teachers only).

“All teachers are required to undertake professional development training to maintain their teacher accreditation with the NSW Education Standards Authority. Southern Cross now offers accredited learning course in STEM to teachers, an initiative that places our region as a centre of learning and professional development,” Dr Reichelt-Brushett said.

High school teachers can attend training in Biology courses at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour. Robotics courses at the Lismore campus are for both primary and high school teachers. A Chemistry course will be added soon.

The Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge is possible through the wonderful support of the Rotary Club of Alstonville and our sponsors.

The Northern Rivers Science and Engineering Challenge, June 19 to 21, is for high school students. Discovery Days, June 24 to 26, is for primary school students.