Basilian STEM Award: A First

The finished products were as complex as they were creative, diverse and dynamic, functional and also futuristic. Mini intelligent machines conceived by inquisitive minds and formed by young hands.  

An alarm clock. A drone. A telegraph Morse code decoding machine. A prosthetic arm.

And, VEX robots that shot balls into a goal, did handstands and stacked cups.

A team of Grade 12 engineering robotics students from St. Michael’s College School demonstrate the drone they built as part of the inaugural Basilian STEM Award for Engineering Robotics.

Each were among six robots created, built, and showcased by Grade 11 and 12 engineering robotics students --- at the first Basilian STEM Award for Engineering Robotics at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS), held this month.

Even more noteworthy when you consider this: “At the beginning of the year, students did not understand the engineering design process nor even simple coding,” says Robert Hofstatter, Teacher, Computer Science and Engineering Robotics, who organized the event. 

In just eight short months, these same students took on the enormous challenge of building a robot and demonstrating its capabilities.


Six teams from each grade earned a chance to pit their handiwork against each other, standing up in front of an audience of judges, their peers, parents and invited guests from other schools to explain their journey and process of constructing their robots.

Each submission was judged on 13 different criteria including: the challenge, brainstorming, selected approach, building and programming aspects of the design process. Each team was also evaluated on test and re-design, usefulness, resources, teamwork and their robot demonstration.

Fr. Bill May, CSB, was one of four judges (including two external). “What impressed me was the practical applications that they (the robots) could be used for,” says Fr. May, who teaches Theology at SMCS. “The amount of small things that had to be soldered, plugged in, manipulated --- that precision work done well by adolescent hands,” he says.

“It is important for these projects to be formally recognized because of the work that goes into them, and the excitement they create,” he says. “Like it or not (especially for dinosaurs like me) this is not the scientific wave of the future, it is the scientific wave that we're swimming in right now!”


In addition to classroom instruction, Grade 12 engineering robotics students --- who demonstrated a mastery of the subject from Grade 11 and Grade 12 --- also honed their skills and further expanded their knowledge by participating in an Engineering Practicum this term. The full-day, off-site sessions involved having these students visit Glen Dimplex, a global firm that specializes in manufacturing intelligent consumer electric heating and renewable energy products.
Students visited the company’s Canadian headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario, on two separate occasions. This experiential learning opportunity was facilitated by the Community Partnerships programme at SMCS.

Each participating team had to present their successes and challenges with building their robots, as well as discuss how they problem-solved and persevered through them, in front of a four-member judging panel.

“The products demonstrated underscore the difference a Deep Learning approach can make in student learning,” says Hofstatter, referring to the student-made robots in the competition.

Hofstatter worked with the team at Glen Dimplex, to ensure the curriculum requirements aligned and were complemented by what the students learned directly from engineers at the firm.

This, along with ongoing inquiry-based or Deep Learning approaches embedded throughout the school year, provided these students with multiple occasions to marry theory with practical application of the principles learned --- especially in the challenged-riddled pursuit of building a robot.
“I am proud of the resilience demonstrated by my students, but especially of the winning teams who showed grit and perseverance in getting their robots to work,” says Hofstatter. “This inaugural event showcased the talent in my classes and allows us to expand the event next year to highlight the incredible achievements within computer science,” he says.


For Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, Interim President, SMCS, the inaugural competition had even deeper meaning. “A few of the students who are currently in the Grade 11 and 12 robotics and computer science courses were students in my grade 7 science classes. It is fascinating to see how the students have developed in pursuing their interests and gaining knowledge in chemistry, physics and biology, and also, in applying these courses in practical use,” says Fr. Leung.

“I am hoping the impact will encourage more students to pursue various engineering and science fields.”

The inaugural event is an extension of the Deep Learning model of teaching at St. Michael College School, which is an inquiry-based approach to both teaching and learning.

Creating the award is a first step in ensuring a meaningful and lasting impact.

“The reason for the award is to encourage students to do well in the theoretical and practical sciences,” says Fr, Leung. “It is also to see the creativity and ingenuity of a young mind at work and to be challenged with the problem-solving component. For Basilians, it is important to educate students holistically, and part of this student formation is the understanding of the natural world.”

Inaugural Basilian STEM Award for Engineering Robotics placements:

Grade 12 Engineering:
1st place - Flying drone
2nd place - Telegraph Morse code decoding machine
3rd place - Alarm clock

Grade 11 Engineering:
1st place - Vex robot that does hand stands and stacked cups in a pyramid
2nd place - Vex robot that shot balls into a goal net using a rotating shooter
3rd place - Vex robot that had an elevator mechanism and ball shooter

STEM is an acronym that refers to the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Deep Learning is an inquiry-based model of teaching that incorporates six global competencies (6 C’s): Creativity, Communication, Citizenship, Critical Thinking, Character and Collaboration. 
This method of teaching currently used at St. Michael’s College School also incorporates experiential and 21st Century learning principles.

The top three teams in each grade received a certificate. The first-place team for each grade will be presented with a plaque that will remain at the school.

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A student demonstrates the prosthetic arm he designed and built. The Basilian STEM Awards brought six groups of Gr. 11 & 12 Engineering Robotics students together to showcase the robots they've been working on all year to their peers and a panel of judges.

A student demonstrates the drone his group designed and built. The Basilian STEM Awards brought six groups of Gr. 11 & 12 Engineering Robotics students together to showcase the robots they've been working on all year to their peers and a panel of judges.

A student demonstrates the alarm clock he designed and built. The Basilian STEM Awards brought six groups of Gr. 11 & 12 Engineering Robotics students together to showcase the robots they've been working on all year to their peers and a panel of judges.