Challenges and Rewards: Computer Science in STEM

I have never believed in taking the easy path in life. As a young girl I read a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that said:

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…

For me, every major life decision always comes back to this quote. When I was a young aspiring ballet dancer, I aimed to get into the Royal Ballet School in London. I worked hard for many years and was eventually successful. It still is one of my proudest accomplishments because it required a huge commitment and a lot of effort, pain and difficulty.

When I was trying to decide what to do with my life after dancing, I wanted to choose something worthwhile, something that required a large commitment and something that was challenging. So, I chose an Engineering Degree in Computer Systems and have never looked back. At its heart, Engineering is a service profession. Engineers are the building, makers and designers of our world and are the people who built one of humanities greatest ever achievements, the internet.

A degree in Computer Systems Engineering is a mix of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. Essentially it teaches how to design and construct the electronic components for a computer system/network from scratch and write the code to run it. In the early 90’s, becoming a Computer Systems Engineer was a relatively new and highly contested career and one I wanted to be part of. It was exciting, challenging and required a huge amount of effort to be successful. To me it was a worthwhile challenge.

When designing Seymour’s STEM curriculum, I wanted Computer Science to have a presence in every year level. I wanted to show our girls how rewarding a good challenge can be and the career opportunities in Computer Science.

Our Year 6 girls are exposed to coding though 2 main activities. Firstly, they undertake block-based coding on the Grok coding platform. Grok is an excellent tool that provides structured tutorials to build knowledge around common control structures used for decision making. The girls then use this knowledge to design and build remote-control cars. They are given a pair of motors, wires, and battery packs as well as access to gears, axles and wheels. Online software such as Makers Empire is used to 3D model unique parts for production using our 3D printers. The cars are radio controlled using pairs of BBC Micro:bits (pocket sized computers) which the girls program to suit their specific designs. This results in fully functional remote-control cars, designed, built and programmed by the girls!

Our Year 7s are exposed to a variety of different digital technologies throughout the year. They are introduced to computer networks and networking protocols including TCP/IP and HTTP. They learn about artificial intelligence and machine learning and how this is changing the world we live in. They explore the ethics behind the creation of artificial intelligent robots and the importance of digital citizenship and what this means for our society in the future.  Additionally, they are introduced to our EV3 robots which they program to solve a series of spatial challenges. The use of the EV3 robots is continued in year 8 where the girls undertake extended Space themed challenges.

The Year 9 Digital Innovations class learn how to design and print 3D models using our Prusa 3D printers. 3D modelling is an excellent way to improve spatial skills and to apply mathematical knowledge to something tangible. In addition to 3D modelling, the girls learn how to code in the computer language Python and program Arduino microcontrollers. The Arduino consists of both a physical programmable circuit board (often referred to as a microcontroller) and a piece of software, or IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that runs on a computer, used to write and upload computer code to the physical board. This integration of hardware and software is the basis of what a Robotic Engineer does.

Our STEM program at Seymour aims to provide rewarding and robust challenges to all girls. Through exposure to unique and diverse learning opportunities our girls learn about the many emerging career possibilities and where their dreams can take them. I cannot wait to see where their challenges take them.

Sonya Arnold
Head of STEM