Gaelscoil ThomÁis Dáibhís scoops National Robotics Award

Pupils from Gaelscoil Thomais Daibhis pictured with Principal Donal O Murchu and teachers after winning the VEX National Robotics Award. Pic, S Murphy.

Inspired by the challenges one of their classmates faces on a daily basis and her ability to use technology to help her overcome cerebral palsy, pupils of Rang 5, Gaelscoil Thomáis Dáibhis, and their teachers began researching the use of robotics and smart technology in the battle to have people with disabilities fully integrated in our society. Isabelle Ní Shíocháin was born with cerebral palsy, but this is not what stands out about Isabelle in the minds and hearts of her classmates. They ensure that Isabelle is involved in almost everything that takes place in school, but, as with all children, they are naturally inquisitive and questioning. These qualities, together with their desire to learn about Isabelle’s ‘smart home’ were the catalysts that set them on their route to landing three awards at the Dell Vex Robotics Challenge in CIT last Thursday. Under the guiding hand of their class teacher, Máire Ní Mhainín, the pupils set to work on the project in September and October. Not only did the project  incorporate  research and   presentation of what exactly is a smart house and how a smart house  can be used by Isabelle in her home environment, the pupils were also required to build and programme a robot  tasked with specific aims as set down by  VEX Robotics Challenge 2017. Muinteoir Máire stressed that there is no blueprint for building the robots and on the day the Gaelscoil pupils had to devise strategies with another school as part of the Teamwork Driving Challenge. This involved planning, communication and implementation – all skills that pupils develop while attending the Gaelscoil. The entire project involved simulated real-life work, with science, technology, engineering and maths components.
The culmination of months of work was unveiled last Thursday in CIT when 51 primary schools competed throughout the day. The results were greeted with rapturous celebrations by pupils, teachers and parents of Gaelscoil Thomáis Dáibhís as they collected three awards including the STEM Research Award, The Teamwork Challenge Award and the overall Excellence Award 2017.
Commenting afterwards, Máire Ní Mhainín, class teacher, stated that she and her pupils were ecstatic after receiving this number of awards. Ms Ní Mhainín paid tribute to the pupils who had worked tirelessly on all aspects of the project since early in the school year. Many lunches were skipped and the lights in the classroom were often burning brightly over the winter evenings as Máire and her pupils refined and improved their robot and computer coding. There was some play also involved with a group of pupils visiting Isabelle’s smart home to make a video recording of smart technology in use in practical terms by one of their friends.
Ms Ní Mhainín was particularly mindful of the cross curricular aspects of this broad project. STEM subjects are core elements of our education system and she pointed out the elements of mathematics, science, technology and engineering covered over the five month project. Ms Ní Mhainín also paid tribute to the other teachers who came on board with the VEX Challenge and made special mention of Treasa Ní Choilleáin, Angela de Róíste and Tomás Ó Conchubhair.
School principal Dónal Ó Murchú congratulated all the pupils and the teachers involved in this mammoth achievement for the school and commented that it was richly deserved for the hours and hours of commitment shown towards the project since its inception last Sep-tember.
The VEV Robotics Challenge is a new departure for primary schools, according to Mr Ó Murchú, but one that will pay rich dividends in the future. “It is changing mindsets, it is addressing real issues with a problem-solving attitude and focus. It is inspiring our young pupils to become the new innovators of their future. This type of work is where it all began for people like Bill Gates, Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein and the other great scientists and innovators of the world. The fact that the pupils were more knowledgeable about some aspects of the robotics than their teachers meant that the learning was pupil-led rather than what one might ordinarily  expect. The focus on the STEM sub-jects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is a national objective for all schools. This project ensures our pupils worked in teams to address and overcome practical everyday issues in all these subject areas.
If Ireland is to have the best education system in Europe, Dell Vex Robotics Challenge must be expanded to bring more young minds to the design tables of research and development centres throughout the country. Mr O Murchú concluded by congratulating the pupils and teachers once again and paying tribute to Dell EMC2 , CIT , and Lifetime Lab for their involvement in such a crucial element of the education of our young pupils for the 21st century. For more information check