Canterbury-Westland Schools' Science & Technology Fair 2013
This event attracts up to 400 entries from Intermediate Schools, Secondary Schools and Home Schools throughout the region. The Fair has been held in Christchurch for over 30 years and throughout this time has grown considerably in size and reputation to become one of the premier Science and Technology events in New Zealand.
The Science fair has students present their science or technology exhibits to judges from various sponsor organisations across Canterbury. The Christchurch Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Local Network sponsors two prizes for 'The Best Engineering and Technology Exhibit'. This was to be my third year judging the competition on behalf of the IET Christchurch network, and I was ably supported by Peter Linscott from Robokits (www.robokits.co.nz) who sourced the prizes.
Each Robo-circle robot kit prize also contained a voucher to redeem for two robotics workshops run by Technotutorz (http://www.technotutorz.co.nz/), where the winners will be able to explore various aspects of robotics through team work and self directed study. They can also take their Robo-circle kits and build them there with all the help they might need too.
The exhibit format was similar to previous years, and an additional third floor was set aside for more exhibits this year. Conscious of time, I elected to skim through the entrants exhibit abstracts looking for potential candidates for the IET prizes. However, it soon became apparent that a number of schools failed to show for whatever reason, and the exhibit list of entrants was not very well compiled (and out of date using last years details in some cases!).
Our first prize went to Nathan Penrose, a Year 7 student from Cobham Intermediate. Nathan had designed and built 'The totally forgettable Bike Light'. He explained that he often forgot to put lights on his bike, much to the consternation of his parents. His solution was to permanently attach a bike light to the handlebars complete with light sensitive control electronics (using Lego Mindstorms NXT) coupled with a motion detector circuit. It also had a manual override switch.
Most Year 7 students feel intimidated talking about their projects to 'scary' judges, and it's important to put them at ease. The thing that struck me about Nathan was his presentation and enthusiasm for his project after overcoming his initial nervousness. His logbook was exemplary and very detailed. On a second visit, Nathan went on to tell me new information about his project. He could have sold me one!
Choosing a second prize winner was a harder task.
It was encouraging to see a number of students come back again in 2013 for another attempt with a different project, albeit a year older and a bit taller.
One project worthy of mention, has been seen on TV and already won a Brightsparks award before: 'The Rubik's Cube Solving Robot'. This was an interesting working exhibit combining sensors, motors, lego, lollipop sticks and lots of python code. James Watson (Year13, Burnside High) said that the project had taught him a lot about python programming and code optimisation. James is going on to study computer science at University of Canterbury soon.
Another project worthy of mention was Huba Nagy (Year 13, Cashmere High) who this year demonstrated an 'Intelligent DMX controlled stand for making effects with any old fixture at hand'. The thing that struck me about this exhibit was that the stand chassis was 3D-printed using his 3D-printer that he exhibited last year. I hope he makes it down to the Makercrate in the CBD, as he could teach a lot of makers there how to use the 3D printers for some great projects. This will also be Huba's last year exhibiting at the show. Huba has also been a recipient of a Brightsparks award in 2012 for his 3D printer, and will be going on to university too.
Equally of interest, was a wearable 'Bicycle Armband Indicator' by Nathanael Wain.
Due to the lack of pure technology exhibits, we spent some time afterwards talking to Science exhibitors and asking what they liked about science and technology. Hopefully, I will have converted a couple of Year 7 students to compete in the technology category next year.
Alex Crichton, Year 7 student from Redcliffs won second prize for his 'Wind Turbine Propeller Efficiency' model. Although categorised as a science exhibit, his experimental wind tunnel diorama was an engineering feat in itself, and attracted a lot of visitors. His presentation was very good, and his logbook completed to a high standard. He probably had some help with the wind tunnel electrics as you might expect for his age, but it was his enthusiasm, apparent dedication and answers to our enquiring questions which won us over.
One of the questions I asked on each further visit was how much they enjoyed doing any kind of project work (electronics and/or programming) outside of school. Alex secured a prize because of his answer to the above question, and the photographic evidence of him building his exhibit in his garage at home provided in his logbook. Clearly Alex is a practical person, and I wanted to inspire and foster this by awarding him a prize and hope to see him back again next year. We hope he likes the Robo-circle.
"Overall, it was great to award our two prizes to Year 7 students, and I wish those Year 13 students moving on to University the best of luck with their engineering studies. If these students are our future engineers and scientists, then we're in good hands!"
While the event was yet another success, albeit a bit disorganised for the judges, it has followed a disappointing trend in that the number of technology exhibits was down on numbers compared to previous years. Could the lack of technology focussed or skilled teachers be a root cause since craft, design and technology is now under-represented in school curriculums?
I recommend the IET continues to support any STEM effort in schools wherever possible. Our IET local network schools' Project 'X' is run in conjunction with Futureintech and gives nominated students hands-on construction of electronics and software programming of a Christmas Tree kit. The project is generously supported by Tait Communications and volunteer mentors come from local industry to help for the day. This project is a fantastic contribution to this STEM effort.
IET Christchurch (Secretary)