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Robot builder brings bots and games into the classroom

Could a robot that makes tea be the inspiration Hamilton Boys' High School students need to make the leap towards digital fluency?

An upcoming visit from a clever coder who makes robots in his spare team could answer that question.

Marcel van de Steeg spends his days writing software applications for Hamilton based developer Company-X. By night he designs robots that make tea and dunk biscuits.

Thanks to a partnership between Company-X and the Secondary School-Employer Partnership, Marcel will be visiting the classroom to share his knowledge and enthusiasm of all things technical.

Students will be able to work together with Marcel, learning how to write, publish and market a game right there in the classroom.

Marcel was given this important task because of his previous experience with farting dinosaurs. After spending time designing games with his eight-year-old daughter at her primary school, his employers knew he was the right one for the job.

“I made games with my kids last year involving unicorns and farting dinosaurs using a Makey Makey controller,” says van de Steeg.

Makey Makey is a tool that turns practically anything into a controller, from pieces of wood to bananas and ketchup. This adds a tactile element to gaming and designing that is a great way to engage students.

van de Steeg says his daughter's games attracted the attention of other classmates and pretty soon he was under siege with ideas from budding game designers.

“All the kids in her class had gone and designed their own games and custom controllers. There were soccer shapes, unicorn shapes, Batman shapes, you name it.

“Afterwards this shy little boy came up to me and I could see I'd lit a spark in his head. He asked me to make a game about tigers and elephants for him, I told him to draw me a picture of his game. Imagine my surprise when my daughter came home at the end of the day with a pile of pictures.

Company-X director David Hallett says the it's important to connect the education industry with what could be future employers.

“It's all about better connectivity between those who teach the technology curriculum at secondary schools, pupils and their potential employers.

“We're very proud to be supporting some of the pupils who will, undoubtedly, become New Zealand's next generation of software developers.

Hallett says companies need to be a part of encouraging students to follow their dreams and pursue careers in IT and software development, which will eventually fill chronic skills shortages in the industry.

Hamilton Boys' High School will be able to harness this creative coder's knowledge and use it to inspire students next month. Head of faculty technology at the school, Simon Devitt, says working with Marcel should bring some great insights into the industry and help inform his students of the options out there.

“They can hear how adults, other than just their teachers, reinforce important work skills and qualities, and the number of opportunities that are available to well trained and motivated people.

Robotics are a great way to introduce more digital fluency into the classroom, with many products combining a hands-on robot kit with coding modules for programming. Keep an eye on Educators for more on these resources.

Take a look at the video below for some tea-dunking robotics.

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