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STEM down under

Australian education and industry leaders join forces to strengthen mining industry

Published November 29, 2019
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When Peggy Mangovski signed up to become a Pitsco Robotics Certified Educator, she did so with a definite purpose in mind. As the project and diversity leader for the STEM Industry in Schools Partnership (SISP) in New South Wales, Australia, Mangovski is heading up a new initiative centered around robotics in mining careers.

“SISP has partnered with Pitsco and Kookaburra Educational Resources to design and develop a robotics competition and curriculum based on mining sustainability and rehabilitation,” she explained. “Mining is a big industry in Australia, but with growing environmental concerns, we knew it was important to find a way to use technology to solve big problems around planet health and people safety.”

Knowing that if she were to lead this new program centered around robotics in mining careers she would need to know everything she could abut robotics and coding, Mangovski, also the head STEM teacher for the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence (CASE), signed up for a Pitsco Robotics Certified Educator event held in Australia in June 2019. She was so motivated by the TETRIX® training, she immediately tried it out with her students. After recording her students working with TETRIX and sharing her results on social media, she wrapped up her certification and earned the title of the world’s first Pitsco Robotics Certified Educator.

“The TETRIX training gave me the time to experiment,” she said. “It also gave me an idea of where students might get stuck with problems, so I could prepare for teachable moments.”

MINING IN AUSTRALIA

As the world’s largest exporter of iron ore and coal, and the second-largest exporter of gold, Australia’s mining industry plays a huge part in the country’s economy (“Mining in Australia: Everything You Need to Know”). As with other industries, it is dependent upon a steady workforce for continued success. The growing field of mining rehabilitation, which includes both the improvement of current mines as well as the repurposing of previously mined lands, opens even more doors for STEM students interested in a range of disciplines, from agriculture and environmental science to technology and robotics.

At the 2019 Mined Land Rehabilitation Conference in June, where Kookaburra and SISP had set up a TETRIX MAX Competition in a Box, SISP Project Lead Dr. Scott Sleap spoke to the importance of connecting classroom learning to mining careers. “At the moment, a large number of our students are not taking on the prerequisite subjects of STEM so they can get involved in these professions,” he said. “So, what we’re doing is we’re getting our young people to learn about these types of skills using robotics, using teamwork, using a whole range of what we call our technical, or soft skills, to develop the type of individual that is going to be our next generation of problem solver and environmental and scientific engineer.”

DIGGING IN

Introducing students to – and training them in – these skills is the goal of the Mined Land Rehabilitation Challenge, a competition and curriculum program aimed at bringing attention to the mined land restoration work going on in Australia as well as increasing awareness among students of STEM careers available in the industry.

“The competition is based on an open cut mine from the Hunter Valley, with students designing robots based on sustainable environmental challenges,” said Mangovski. “It involves designing robotic systems that plant different types of vegetation safely on a mine rehabilitation site and avoids hazards such as water and voids. Students will need to design a robotic system using the TETRIX MAX or PRIME kits to solve real-world problems with an environmental science and agritech focus.”

For now, SISP is starting with regional events. SISP STEM project officers will lead competitions in five different regions of New South Wales, with the first challenge being held in the Mid North Coast. Simultaneously, Mangovski and colleagues Jeff Appleby and Ian Preston – also Pitsco Robotics Certified Educators – are working with TETRIX kits to create challenges for the surrounding learning communities. “As the diversity leader for SISP, I have been assisting in the coordination of the challenge structure and liaising with our industry liaison officer to develop a competition-in-the-box- style solution that will allow more remote and rural schools to participate in the challenge at a time that suits them,” Mangovski explained. She will also be coordinating a culminating challenge for students in the Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, and Muswellbrook communities.

Soon, though, they hope to have the main challenge up and running. “For our Mined Land Rehabilitation Challenge, Jeff Appleby and I are collaborating on a cross-regional challenge that will take place next year in partnership with local universities,” said Mangovski. “This event will feature a satellite connect option to allow other regional and remote schools to participate. . . . In the lead-up to the challenge, students will be participating in school-based mini challenges this year to improve their robotics, coding, and design skills.”

But the hopes for TETRIX lessons go beyond the mining industry. Preston, for example, is considering competitions and curriculum that delve even deeper into agriculture. “My area in New South Wales, the Riverina, is a ‘food bowl’ of agriculture,” he explained. “So, I’ll be looking at using TETRIX perhaps in an agritech focus, as the platform can be adapted to several scenarios.”

The dream is to see these new challenges grow beyond Australia. “We hope our competition and learning programs will expand globally and bring attention to the incredible and innovative work in Australia around mined land restoration,” said Mangovski.

“At times, they have individual accountability, sometimes small teams, sometimes large teams. They’re learning those skills of how to communicate, collaborate, support, how to assess, how to provide feedback and accomplish something, which is pretty powerful.”

– Dr. Gregory Firn, superintendent, Anson County, North Carolina

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