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McAdam, N.B., middle school students build robots with help from Roboflight

The robots were controlled through an app on the students smartphones. (Source: Avery MacRae/CTV News Atlantic) The robots were controlled through an app on the students smartphones. (Source: Avery MacRae/CTV News Atlantic)
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It was a day middle school students at McAdam High School in New Brunswick had been preparing for over the past month.

There were laughs, some playful trash talk, and some serious moments as around 15 of the 30 students who took part in the program displayed the robots they built from scratch in an obstacle course and battle royal ring.

“It was so cool to fight people and have those little competitions and battles,” says student Addison Blair-Musgrave.

Students admit they thought they were in over their heads when the program began.

“You just look at the whole thing and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’ and you don’t know what anything means,” admits soon-to-be Grade 9 student Ayden Demerchent. “It’s just been like a big mess but once you know it, you know it, so that’s cool.”

“I was so confused at first,” admits Blair-Musgrave. “He showed us the laptop with all the codes and I did not think I was going to be able to do it.”

Led by Abdur Chowdhury through his program Roboflight, students began with an unassembled kit, which had to be put together from scratch. This required students to learn the basics of circuity with that knowledge then being applied to turning on lights, power wheels, and eventually steering their assembled robots.

Chowdhury created the program to help teach coding and robotics after noticing a skills gap between graduating students and the need of tech companies.

He said the students in McAdam exceed his expectations.

“I can say I wasn’t that smart in Grades 6 or 7, I was learning this in university and they are doing it all by themselves,” says Chowdhury. “It’s just amazing to see, like, in the first few classes they weren’t confident and were limiting themselves but within the next few classes they were doing it all themselves and trying to get ahead of one another.

“It’s like seeing the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.”

Students learned basic coding and circuity through the Roboflight program. (Source: Avery MacRae/CTV News Atlantic)

McAdam High principal Matt Clements had been trying to bring coding programs to the school for some time, and says Roboflight is the perfect way to bring some excitement to a field some may not find thrilling.

“The first few days of this were slow and I was kind of worried,” he admits. “But it was just great to see so many students take to this and take off. You had some students who were actually driving the robot when others were still trying to get a bit of circuity working, so it’s great.”

He says it was thrilling to watch the students get excited about turning on a light bulb through circuitry work, or watching them first make their robots move.

Another part of brining the program to the school was to allow the students to try something they may not have otherwise had the chance to do.

“What I think really thrilled me the most was those students who at the beginning thought they didn’t have any interest in this, and many of those students really took off early,” Clements says. “And to see them enthusiastic and to see them in there trying to work with the circuit and really get into it really makes a teachers heart go around.”

Some students admitted after learning basic code, they may be interested in a career in the field following high school.

“It’s crazy to see how far they have progressed in such a short amount of time,” beams Chowdhury. “So I am very proud of them.”

Chowdhury plans to further expand his Roboflight program and continue working with students from McAdam over the summer and into the next school year to improve their robots.

Click here for a photo gallery on the robots.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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