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Drones and bots at the Prep

Beyond the classroom, students are pursuing basketball, chess and pickleball — and for the technology-focused, there are drone and VEX IQ robotics clubs.
Teacher D.J. Rossi is running a six-week mini-drone club for the second consecutive year. 

“Technology is moving so fast, and we need to jump on board and embrace it,” says Rossi, a certified drone pilot. 

The 20 students in the club — a mix of Years 5, 6 and 7 — each use a mini-drone with four propellers and a tiny camera and learn how to fly it during the six weeks.

“These drones are lightweight and don’t require a license, which is fortunate, since pilots can’t take the licensing exam until they’re 14,” Rossi says. “However, the skills are transferable, since controls for all drones are the same.”

He teaches the students the rules of safe operation and seeks to see them become proficient in controlling the drones and learning to share airspace.

“We go through a series of learning experiences and challenges, such as playing musical chairs to see who can land a drone the fastest and neatest and flying them through moving hoops hung from the ceiling,” Rossi says. “They should get used to measuring distances with their eyes and being aware of obstacles.

“This year, with cameras attached to their drones, they’ll see the world around them with totally new eyes; you almost feel as if you’re the one flying.”

Meanwhile, VEX IQ robotics has been introduced at the Prep by Lynda Yearwood, after-school program co-ordinator and teacher of design and computer science. The internationally popular game already has an established club at the Upper School. 

Prep VEX IQ participants work as a team to build a robot using a set of pieces that snap together and can be attached to motors and sensors. Each year, the teams worldwide are given a new challenge for the robots to accomplish. This year, it’s a goal object game, where the robot must place objects of various shapes, sizes and colours into the goal in a designated amount of time in order to accumulate points.

“For middle schoolers, VEX IQ is always a co-operative game,” Yearwood says. “The students must manipulate the robot and collectively score as many points a possible.”

Year 7 student Kevin Zhao is an enthusiastic team member. He has been interested in technology since the age of five and when he learned about the new club, “I was overjoyed,” he says. “I submitted my application right away so I could follow my passion.”

The team competes at skills competitions and has attended two so far this term. After each competition, they assess their performance and work with Ms. Yearwood and mentors from the Upper School team to tweak the robot to remedy any design weaknesses.

“At our first competition, we learned how to operate our robot under pressure,” says Kevin. “At our second competition, we performed very well and made two finals. It was a great result for a first-year team and I’m very proud. Now, we’re hoping we can make it to provincials.”
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