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Mad for Madmaker

20 October 2015
We wanted to design a STEM teaching tool that would really fit the needs of schools

Students across Australia have gone mad for Madmaker, an online STEM challenge launched this week by the University of Sydney.

More than 120 high schools, 300 hundred teachers and 1500 students across the country are taking part in the six-week challenge that is more about learning than winning.

Aimed at Year 9 high school students MadMaker is the brainchild of electrical and information technologies engineer Dr Abelardo Pardo and his team at the University of Sydney.

MadMaker is about showing and teaching participants in fun, engaging way about embedded systems and how they are used in our everyday life.

“The STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – are central to the development of many objects we now take for granted, such as computers, mobile phones, biomedical instruments, GPS systems and many robotic devices,” says Dr Pardo.

“During the MadMaker challenge students use STEM subjects to solve real-world problems in an exciting new way – exploring and designing systems with the popular and user-friendly Arduino Esplora board.”

As part of the challenge students work in pairs using the board connected to a regular computer. The board includes sensors for temperature, sound, light and movement, as well as a joystick. The application to write programs is open source and can be installed on a conventional computer.

 “We picked Arduino Esplora boards because they are an introductory level device, inexpensive but powerful tool to learn with. If the schools or students want to continue exploring and designing after the six week program, the costs of the kits are not prohibitive, around about $85,” says Dr Pardo a specialist in technology based learning.

The MadMaker challenge was designed to entice students who may not have previously seen a future career in engineering, technology or science-related fields.

”We wanted to design a STEM teaching tool that would really fit the needs of schools so we conducted numerous  sessions termed ‘participatory design’ programs with high school teachers.

“Through these sessions we were able to design a challenge that fitted the needs of both the teachers and their students and not something we thought they needed.

“Feedback so far from the students has been terrific, with a high level of engagement from science and math teachers, as well as female students,” says technical project lead, Owen Brasier also from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

The University of Sydney project is officially named the Embedded System Design Challenge and is partially funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training through the Australian Maths and Science Part Teacher Training Workshops, and the STEM Teacher Enrichment Academy at The University of Sydney.

Victoria Hollick

Media and Public Relations Adviser
  • Level 5 School of Information Technologies Building J12

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