Glenda McTaggart would like to see Cayman students take over the world of robotics, or at least play a part in the burgeoning technical field. But, she said, it will require change.
“So far, robotics are not part of the school curriculum,” said Ms. McTaggart, education program manager for Dart Enterprises. “[But] I suspect Cayman will be going in that direction soon.”
She’s hoping a new program sponsored by a coalition of local businesses will provide not only an avenue for interested students to learn more about the field, but also will help in mainstreaming the subject into the high school curriculum.
On Thursday, Dart announced that its Dart Minds Inspired program is partnering with Aureum Re, the Caribbean Utilities Company, Digicel and Health City Cayman Islands to bring FIRST robotics programs to local high schools.
The effort comes from a competition some Cayman high schoolers fell into last year when Ms. McTaggart was invited to field a team for the FIRST Global Challenge, an international competition in Mexico City that drew entries from more than 180 countries. Because of time constraints, the three-student team that competed was pulled together through direct recommendation. This year, Ms. McTaggart wanted to open the field to any interested student.
Each high school in the Cayman Islands will receive a $2,000 robotics kit, she said, with enough material to build multiple robots. A workshop being held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2, will train interested teachers on how to teach their students to write code, wire electronics and construct a working robot.
Teams from each of the schools and their robots will face off in May in an intra-island competition. Based on performance and teacher nominations, seven students will be chosen to represent Cayman at the FIRST Global Challenge, which will be held during the summer at a yet-to-be-determined site in Europe.
Ms. McTaggart said each of the sponsoring companies will be providing assistance to the teams in the form of volunteer engineers.
“We actually have some young engineers, like for CUC, who have backgrounds in robotics,” she said.
Dr. Alwin Almeida from Health City, who uses robots in his practice, will be a presenter at one of several workshops that students will be able to attend, she added.
The FIRST program is not the only robotics team on the islands. A group of 18 students, ages 9 to 14, traveled last month to Florida for the FIRST Lego League West Florida Qualifier Tournament at St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus, and Cayman students have participated in the SeaPearch Challenge for several years.
“We’re the ones that brought the SeaPerch project to the Cayman Islands,” Ms. McTaggart said. With this program, “We’re following the same kind of recipe.”
The idea is to bolster science in the local high schools.
“The main goal,” she said, “is raising awareness for STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and starting an interesting conversation about how this fits into the high school science program.
“The ultimate goal is to introduce more kids to robotics,” she added, “to make them more aware of new careers in robotics.”
People interested in volunteering for the program can email Glenda McTaggart at [email protected]