A short one this week, just to let you know that the Xperiential Education Podcast is Live!
The first two episodes are out and another will go live tomorrow! It’s been a wonderful educational experience for me traveling to meet the different educators and cover a huge range of topics and educational contexts. Please join us on this great journey for updates and some key links check out the website & twitter feed:
Web - www.xperiential.education
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/experientialeducationpodcast/
You can subscribe to the Podcast on:
If you’re running a cool experiential education program, please get in touch, I’m always searching for great new ideas for shows and exploring different techniques and strategies for experiential education.
This week is just a quick heads up on a podcast I’m launching soon called Xperiential Education (www.xperiential.education)
Over the past year, (in my spare time), I’ve been travelling around and interviewing some fascinating people who work in experiential education. Now my definition of experiential education is very broad and intentionally so. This is not a podcast about classroom practice nor is it about outdoor education. It’s about a whole range of interesting and unique approaches as to how leaders, teachers, trainers and businesses are educating others, be it at home, in school, at a retreat or specialised venue, on the job, or any other context where those with experience in life create valuable and meaningful learning experiences for others.
We’re at a pivotal moment in history. Technology has suddenly impacted on everything that we do, so as the world rapidly changes how does education need to change to remain relevant? Does it digitise? Or does it take a step back into more traditional approaches? Or are we yet to really discover and understand what the next step forward is in education? This is just one of many great topics I’ve been able to cover with my guests, with the overall aim of discovering some really effective and powerful learning experiences.
I’ve tried to keep the interviews as diverse as possible, covering:
Theatre & Performance
I hope you enjoy Season 1 of the podcast. This has been a challenging and interesting learning experience for me as well and I look forward to people’s feedback. The full guest list is below and links and show notes will be added on the Xperiential Education website as each episode goes to air.
Season 1 (not in episode order)
Cyn Smith – Tihoi Venture School - NZ
Adrian Deakes – V&A Museum – London
Dr Brendan Nelson – Australian War Memorial – Canberra
Rebecca Cameron – Former Australian Federal Police Officer
Matt Purcell – GovHack - Canberra Grammar
Glenys Thompson – Australian Science & Mathematics School – Adelaide
Mary Preece – Bundanon Trust
Noel Mifsud – Antarctic Adventures & Christian Brothers College – Adelaide
Tim Nolan – Wesley College Clunes – Victoria
Some of the ideas that these great educational leaders have shared with me are truly amazing. Please send me a message with any feedback, ideas or guest suggestions for Season 2. I look forward to sharing with you some great insights into learning through doing and hope you can use them in your own work!
Late last year, I was involved with another film project called The Merger! I enjoy the different sort of challenge that comes with a film project. For me however, the biggest challenge was just finding the time to get there. With that in mind, I was able to sneak it in between work days and I’m so glad that I did.
Film projects are lots of fun (although there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into them and a lot of sitting around doing nothing). I think the bigger the budget, the more sitting around doing nothing there is. I would imagine that actors should be very well-read, as the time spent doing nothing at all, is significant.
A few years ago, I was in the movie Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie. Most of the film was done in Australia and I somehow ended up in it as a journalist. The free haircut was probably the most exciting part of the whole experience and when it came to the day of filming, I sat around for eleven hours in a room full of Nazis and did nothing. Ok, so to be honest, they weren’t real Nazis. They were just dressed up as Nazis as we were supposed to be at the Berlin Olympics. Finally, everyone was called onto the set, where we stood around for another hour waiting for something to happen. As if in the blink of an eye, the scene was filmed and everyone was sent back to get changed out of their SS uniforms. Not really the most exciting of days as the illusion of stardom feels so much emptier and extremely uninteresting after thirteen hours of standing around and waiting.
However, I don’t want to discourage anyone from giving this a go. It’s one of those things where I can say, “I’ve been there and done that.” I was however, far more interested when I became involved in two much smaller Australian films. The first one being “The Backyard Ashes,” and most recently, “The Merger,” which are both by Director Mark Grental.
I only became involved by a chance meeting at a political party convention back in 2011. Mark was the guest speaker and a very unusual one to have at a political meeting, because he was funny and interesting. He’d told his story of growing up in a rural community near Wagga Wagga and what it was like being interested in the arts. He’d moved away to study at NIDA and was now back to work on a feature film called The Backyard Ashes. As expected, this was a movie about cricket. As soon as he gave the overview of the film, I was hooked. It was a great Australian Story that tells the tale of a neighbourhood dispute where the main character and his friends are playing backyard cricket and after hitting the ball for six, accidentally incinerates his boss’s prized cat on the barbecue. He collects the ashes of the cat and returns it to the owner. Long story short to resolve the neighbourhood dispute, they then play a game of backyard cricket with the ashes as the prize!
It’s a funny movie and throughout it, I was able to be involved on the set and off the set with a cameo as an extra and also helping out with the post production marketing! I’d never imagined that a chance meeting at a fairly dull political conference could lead to me to meeting so many interesting people and going to so many cool parties. When I saw that Mark was making another film, I decided that I wanted to be involved once again!
The Merger is another sports movie, this time based around AFL. The basic story is that this country football club is basically going to wreck and ruin. The team’s gone, the clubhouse condemned and it’s not looking good. However, there’s a chance to revive things with the idea of enlisting and training refugees to play on the team. I won’t give any more of the plot away and you should go and see if for yourself. It’s a very politically topical movie given the debate in Australia around refuges and what we should be doing as a nation and there’s not an easy solution, as it’s a very emotive and devise debate.
The beauty of art and film however, is that it can present ideas in such a unique way that’s outside of the standard partisan political debate we see in our daily media. If you look at how art has pushed the boundaries for centuries in helping our world modernise, fight for human rights and become more equitable, you start to really appreciate the value of art within our society.
Whilst I have no intention of going into the film industry, for me, being involved in projects in this way, gives me something different to do. It’s a chance to be part of something much bigger and something that’s going to last forever. Whenever I see The Backyard Ashes advertised, or on TV or even on the inflight entertainment, I feel excited to have been part of it all. From the first meeting of the actors and crew, which happened to be at a BBQ, to the green and red carpet premiers in Wagga and Sydney. The people I met, the friendships I developed, the experience I gained and the stories I now have, were all a wonderful part of this. I now have two films I can watch with great pride and also scream out when I spot myself standing obscurely in the corner of a scene.
As we’re now into a new year and the holidays are coming to an end, why don’t you find something you’ve always wanted to try, just for the sake of it. I challenge everybody over the next twelve months to get yourself involved in something completely different. A random project that you’ve always wanted to try out! You never know who you will meet, or where it will take you. Live your life to the fullest and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way this year.
Friendship in the digital world is an interesting phenomenon, especially amongst teenagers. Since relationships are changing, I feel there’s a need to redefine how we refer to different sorts of friends. On the one hand, teenagers have some friends they know quite well. They probably go to school with, play sports with and hang out with these friends. On the other end of the spectrum, a friend could also be nothing more than a number on a screen.
Given the digital age in which we live, I think we need to split these radically different sorts of friends into two categories. There’s the ‘high-res’ friends (4K) that you see and interact with in real life and real time and ‘low-res’ friends (Internet Friends) that only ever appear as pixelated visages on a screen and may come with some annoying time delay or lag when communicating with them, if you communicate with them at all.
The internet and social media has brought the world so much closer together, especially in terms of people being able to interact with others who have similar shared interests and shared beliefs. However, at the same time, it’s also created a massive disconnect between real friends and those who are often never met in real life, or just appear as a number on a screen.
This can cause significant problems for teenagers as they search for meaningful connections, but especially for teens who struggle making friends at school and who become reliant on the internet for all their socialisation.
The reality is that despite being able to connect with others who may be in similar circumstances or have shared interests, there are many subtle nuances, reactions, facial expressions and body language that go into developing and fostering real friendships. These subtle behaviours and communications are completely lost when those friendships occur online. It’s all these complex subtleties that make up human relationships which are critical to success in all aspects of life and it’s these same complex subtleties, which are most at risk in the digital age.
Whilst some interactions and connections online can be quite good, many should be seen more as the penpals of days gone by where you’d write to someone and learn about their culture through letters, rather than someone suddenly being your new best friend about whom you know very little.
When I was at school, I had a Spanish penpal. We’d write to each other, exchange stories and photos. It was always exciting to get a letter from overseas and through this I gained a wonderful insight into a culture completely different from my own. I enjoyed this a lot, but the reality was that this was a person from another country and quite distant and disconnected from my other friends.
However, as the global network of devices and connectivity grows, the disconnect between people and real relationships increases. The ease at which you can find new ‘friends’ who might have similar interests is remarkable. However, the speed at which these ‘friendships’ fade is also remarkable. It’s almost transactional in nature. ‘I’ll be friends if you like all my posts!’ That sort of thing. However just as fast as the interaction is made possible, people move on to the next person who might, on the surface, appear to be more interesting. The cycle goes on and on and on with friendships being nothing more than superficial at best and toxic and destructive at the other end of the spectrum.
This is the true problem with these low-res friends. It’s often the most vulnerable teens who are searching for friendships online and it’s these teens who need high-res, a.k.a. real friends, they can actually spend time with more than anything else. If they’re experiencing something in life that’s hard or they’re not sure how to deal with it, the low-res friends invariably lose even more resolution and simply fade away into the aethernet. If you have no real connection with anyone, then it’s easy to just leave them in the lurch, especially if helping them makes you feel slightly uncomfortable and many teenagers today don’t like discomfort. It’s a sad harsh reality that needs to be addressed in a meaningful way.
For real relationships to develop and flourish, teenagers need high-res friends, the sort with whom they can go to the park, to the beach, ride bikes, play sport and have sleepovers. I know this may be a way out concept and the paranoid parents of the world don't want to let their children leave the house, as it could be quite scary out there! But the reality is that many of the dangers of the world can now be accessed directly from home. Going outside and playing with real friends is much safer, healthier and leads to far more balanced individuals.
If teenagers understand how to make friends and how to develop friendships in real life with hi-res friends, then equally, they can meet people online and develop friendships over longer distances, through which they can develop a whole range of different and wonderful experiences throughout life with people that have similar interests.
However, the reverse isn’t true. If they make all their friends online first, they have no way of really understanding what relationships are about. They won’t know how to interact with other people properly and in a meaningful way. This problem then flows through to university and the workplace and has the potential to cost a teenager years of their life as they play catchup and try to understand others in the real world around them.
Having said that, low-res friends aren’t all bad because they can open up the world to a whole range of different people which can be wonderful and beneficial. However, the most important thing to begin with is to develop real friendships in real life with high-res friends and then when teenagers have that real world experience, they can go and make as many low-risk friends as they like, but seriously if you’re working through this issue with teenagers, ask them, at the end of the day, what’s more important a high friend count, or friends who count?
I felt the bracing cold of Canberra, as I stepped from the car in anticipation of another challenging weekend at GovHack. I can understand why the Federal Parliament has a winter recess! However, despite this, I was rugged up and ready.
Walking up to the Snow Centre (Canberra Grammar’s amazing technology building), it was lit up with the GovHack and CGS logo projected onto the wall, looking more like a night club, than a school. Thinking of which, imagine how much money you could make from doing pop-up night clubs in schools on the weekends and in the holidays! Think about it! You have the venue, the sound systems, plenty of parking… You just need a liquor licence and you could make a ton of money! Hmmm I could be onto something… (patent pending © David Gregory 2017!!!)
Anyway, walking in, the place was buzzing with excitement. Even the registration process was cool, as I lined up to register. It was in a darkened room, illuminated by a number of computers. My name badge had been printed on this cool looking Perspex, which in the darkened room appeared to glow.
Armed with my badge and my laptop, I walked around and said hi to a few people I’d met last year. However, my nerves were starting to kick in. For me this sort of event, at least getting started is way outside my comfort zone. I may run around the countryside mountain biking, hiking, exploring new places and speaking to large audiences without any problems, going into an unknown project with a team of people I haven't even met yet is a tough and challenging experience for me. However, that's the whole point! Part of the challenge for me in doing something like this, is the fact that it is confronting and nerve wracking stepping out into the unknown.
Whilst I often talk about ways in which to push others outside their comfort zone, it makes little sense to be teaching this, unless you're going to do it yourself. Despite the nerves, the apprehension and not knowing how that night was going to turn out let alone the whole weekend, I walked in. Always worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a team, I pushed through this negative thinking, in anticipation of what could be. As usual, I was proved wrong on this. At the team forming point, I met some amazing and diverse people with whom I ended up working.
Whilst there are prizes for the most innovative use of data and a range of other categories, for me success was more to do with finding a team and working with that team to produce something interesting over the next forty six hours.
The excited noise of the crowd subsided, as ACT organiser Matt Purcell introduced the evening and ran through the rules of the event and provided a rundown of everything that was happening over the weekend and most importantly what was for dinner!
At the conclusion of his presentation, there was hurried activity as teams scrambled to their breakout rooms to start hacking, or grab a can of drink from the fridge, both good options! For our team, the first challenge was to get to know everybody's names and work out what everybody's strengths were. We quickly went around the table and introduced ourselves with a quick background as to what we do and why we were competing at GovHack.
Most teams had been organised beforehand and many of them had already devised some idea of the sort of projects they were going to work on. However, when you’ve just created a brand-new team with people you’ve never even met before, suddenly the challenge of this exercise escalates. Not only do you have to get to know people and work out their strengths really quickly, you have to come up with a cohesive and innovative idea using government data and produce at least a semi-working prototype within forty six hours.
For many, this might be an overwhelming task. However, I believe the key to success in this is effective communication. Even though we weren't able to go straight to a room and start working on our project, we were able to communicate effectively with each other and through our discussions and brainstorming, ideas started to flow and slowly come together.
As I've said many times before, for me being innovative is really hard sitting around a table. Yet this time, I found as ideas were being thrown up as to what datasets could be used, I was able to start bouncing ideas back that over the next hour and a half started to form into something quite interesting. The only thing which stumped all of us was the team name, which in the end pretty much ended up being based upon the solution that we created.
So what did we come up with?
After harassing countless government mentors and asking them what their biggest problem was, we came up with a mashup idea which evolved from using the cat restricted area data to chase down rogue cats, to a mobile app which allows drivers to quickly and accurately report injured wildlife to ACT Wildlife services. With the ultimate aim of faster rescue services and better data-capture on injured wildlife, our team got to work to research the impact of this in more depth and then built a business case and prototype from this.
The day seemed to evaporate as we brainstormed, planned and developed the idea. The sun had set and the rich tantalising smell of Indian food wafted through the air. With the organisers catering for 170 people, I've never seen so many massive buckets of curry in my life. It was a much needed and appreciated meal after a long day of hacking!
I headed off around 8:30 that evening after what had been a very productive day of team work. We’d all been working on our individual tasks, which were all contributing to the big picture of our overall project.
The next day started slowly, but the pace picked up to frantic levels as the deadline approached. We’d completed the project and the video just in time. However, after the first attempt to export the video from iMovie to YouTube failed, I had to do it manually and when I did, the computer was telling me it would take 26mins to upload the video and there were 13mins to go!!! Not able to rely on a timely server crash, I quickly re-exported the video at a much lower res and nervously cancelled the upload, removed the file and started again! The smaller video file uploaded quicker than I expected and thankfully with 4 mins to go, it was in!
Honey I Hit a Roo! - https://youtu.be/Gpi8EZiYi2Q
As the upload was confirmed, a great feeling of relief and achievement flooded in. It felt great to have successfully completed a project that two days ago, we had no idea about. Whilst at this point, it’s easy to reflect and say there was nothing to worry about, which in the end was true, if I hadn’t challenged myself and pushed myself outside my own comfort zone, I’d never have met such a great team who included Yogesh, Anthony, Ian and Mahathir and been able to create a really cool solution to a massive problem in Australia.
For the remainder of the year, I encourage everyone to do something that’s way outside their comfort zone. Don’t just teach it! Actually do it! Through this, you can become far more confident and effective in your own work and your own life. For me, this was such a great weekend, meeting new people and reconnecting with others I hadn’t seen in a long time. If you’ve never been to something like GovHack, then you must save the date for next year! A huge thankyou to Canberra Grammar, Matt Purcell and all the other GovHack volunteers who made it such an amazing weekend! Great work for me! It was a wonderful experience and the atmosphere of the whole event spoke volumes about how well it was done!
It's time to once again brave the cold of Canberra for a weekend of hacking! Whilst it would be more fun to be spending the weekend hacking a top-secret mainframe, unfortunately that's not what this sort of hacking is all about. So for the moment, the secret as to what happened to Harold Holt after he went for a swim and who has the Maltese Falcon, will remain safely hidden in the depths of the top secret bunker under Parliament House for the time being...
Instead, GovHack is a weekend all about hacking together ideas and code in a useful manner to do something productive and constructive with huge government datasets. If you have some free time and you don't know what to do with yourself, why not check out http://www.data.gov.au/ . There's over 30,000 freely available government datasets found here for you to get creative with. Everything from health stats to wave heights out at sea make up this enormous collection of data. Sadly, despite trying, I couldn't find anything about the second gunmen on the grassy knoll or the current whereabouts of the magic pudding.
Whilst last year's experience at GovHack was an amazing one, it was somewhat overwhelming as a first time participant, from the point of view I had no idea how the weekend was going to play out. However, that was part of the excitement, not knowing who I was going to meet or what I was actually going to be doing. This time however, it's exciting for a different reason. Now I kind of know what I'm doing and with that knowledge, I know exactly what time I need to line up for food before the crowd arrives.
Despite having this advantage over others for the food line, the real excitement for me comes back to the fact that whilst I know how it all works this time around from a logistical point of view, the datasets are different, the projects will be different, the challenges and prizes will be different and the team might be different. Once you throw in all these new variables it's an entirely new challenge and experience.
This can be seen as a reflection on how technology is shaping our lives in such a dramatic way. Whilst in the past, experience could make you an expert in a certain area and from one year to the next it wouldn’t change much. For example, if you read lots of books on ancient Rome, you would most likely be an authority on the subject. However, 12 months on since the last GovHack challenge, technology has changed, the world has move forward, (with the exception of North Korea) and what I thought I was reasonably good with back then, I find has completely changed by now. No longer can we get away with creating a mash up of bus schedules and Pokémon Go stops, because literally nobody cares about Pokémon Go anymore. Whilst this might be a wonderful reflection on the progress our society has made in a year, one good thing the game did, was that it got a lot of shut-ins out of their windowless basements and running around town chasing imaginary creatures.
Despite the shifting sands of technology, game fads and social media, no matter how much the world changes, there remain some key educational groundings and skills that are essential for the challenge of GovHack. Being able to analyse and solve real-world problems is what this weekend is all about. Forget the technology, as I said, it constantly changes and so with that, you just have to accept the inevitable change and realise that is now just another variable in the problem-solving process.
For anyone considering going to something like this, it is a fantastic experience and is of immense educational value. You will learn more in one weekend problem solving with others, than you will in six months in a classroom. Even if you know nothing about the technology, it's your ability to look at a problem in a unique way and find creative solutions that will lead you to success. This is really a microcosm of what mainstream education should be about. As the world changes so rapidly, education needs to realise this and catch up with the fact that teachers need to be teaching students how to be looking at problems, considering options and working out solutions.
If you haven't already got yourself organised to go to a GovHack event, then get to right now to do something about it. Find your nearest location and register to attend, because it will be one of the most memorable weekends of your year. If in the process, you happen to find out who has the Maltese Falcon, I am willing to pay handsomely for that information…
Over the weekend, I was involved in GovHack 2016 in Canberra, which was hosted by Canberra Grammar School. GovHack, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a collaborative international competition sponsored by government and businesses that focuses on how to better use the huge collection of around 10,000 government data sets publicly available. There was a huge range of prizes for different categories of solutions. A cynical view would be that it’s the government finding a cheap way to solve the problems that big departments aren’t agile enough to solve themselves. However, a better view is that the government is serious about reshaping the economy in a way that promotes innovation and understands just how tenacious and innovative Australians are when it comes to building things that do stuff! (Ok, NZ is in the competition as well, but I’m kinda biased).
Friday Kickoff Night
Friday night 6pm was the kick off, with the briefing and the announcement of the various prizes and goals. I was a bit worried when most people appeared to be in well-organized teams and were walking in with huge screens and their own computer servers tucked under their arms! I thought I’d be left to fend for myself and the idea of trying to do a project alone is just plain crazy. It simply doesn’t work! You need a team with a diverse skill set who can imagine, problem solve, build and present! Without unique individual skills to make up the team, you’re going to really struggle with the complexity of this sort of challenge.
Luckily when I went to the team signup area, I met Pin and Alec, who were both tech experts in search of a business/presenter type! Well hey, that’s me! :) a fantastic start to the team challenge. With such friendly people. We were then joined by Will who completed the team with his great technical and problem solving skills. With our team ready to go, now the biggest challenge of all… Working out what to do?
Team Work Space
This is probably one of the hardest things, even for for a team of innovative and creative people. There’s a ton of data sets, all with their own opportunities and own problems. I know my best creativity happens whilst going up ski lifts, but despite the Canberra cold, there was no snow in sight. So plan B! We brainstormed for over an hour trying to work out what to do and what data could be used to do it. Eventually, Will and Alec suggested buses and Pokémon! What? I hear you mumbling. What the hell is that all about? Well it’s a natural mashup! Trust me on this! The idea for the app was to take the live transport data from Canberra’s Action buses and overlay it on the street map so you could see exactly where every bus is and watch it get closer as it approaches your stop. On top of this, we decided to overlay the map with all of the Pokémon Go stops and gyms around Canberra! Makes perfect sense! Pin added the local wildlife habitats as well for an additional tourist element to get more people using our buses.
Buses, Wildlife & Pokémon, Oh My!
The remainder of the evening was spent fleshing out the idea, how it would work and what we needed to do for it. With the idea solidly in hand, we decided to come back to it in the morning to get started on the build.
The next day we got stuck into the project. Each of us worked on a discrete component for which each of us had a special skill. The coding talk for me was understandable, but seeing everyone typing and coding on the screen made my head spin slightly! I spent the day focused on researching ACT buses and the wider social issues surrounding public transport usage in Canberra! I then drew out some statistics and evidence to support the business case for the app and complied it all ready to present it. I also did some mock up images of the Action Pokébus, which was fun!
The Concept Taking Shape
It was a long day and we finished after dinner, which was noodle boxes. I have to say, the catering for the event was awesome. Canberra Grammar did a fantastic job of food, drinks and snacks to keep everyone going the whole weekend. I managed to eat waaaayyy too many Oreos and now I desperately need to go for a run. However, back to the event! We finished for the evening with parts of the platform built and the research complete! We were all ready for a good night’s rest, before the final stretch in the morning.
Sunday morning started with a similar pace to Saturday, with each of us working on our own parts of the project. As the day progressed, it all started to gel together with the software being finalised and my speech almost done. I revised it several times before I was happy with the script and then we quickly shot it as the battery on the camera quickly died. We literally had two takes and that was it. No more battery, no other chance to refine.
The last hour was frantic, stressful and exciting all at the same time! After recording the pitch, Will edited it and threw in all of the info and screenshots to demonstrate the platform in action! I could see the clock ticking down as I typed faster and faster to update each of the details for the submission. Meanwhile, the team finished editing the video and made sure the app was running ready for the submission! Just as we were about to upload everything and submit our project, we got a blank screen… The GovHack server went down! We were literally moments from submission!!! You know that sinking feeling when you’re trying to catch a bus and you see it driving off, well that’s what it felt like. Thankfully, it affected everyone else and we were able to submit our work once they got the server up and running again!
Frantic Final Touches
As we waited for the two umpalumpas somewhere in an unlit basement to restart the government servers, we had a chance to just chat and do a bit of a debrief on the weekend. It was interesting going around the table and finding out what the most challenging and reward parts were for each of the team.
The great thing for me about the weekend was being way outside my comfort zone. Even though I understood in general terms what was going on, I can’t code and this made me feel uncomfortable and totally reliant on the others to build the idea. However, their skills were amazing and the benefit of this was the fact that each member of the team had a strength in a different area. Together, it was a fantastic meshing of skills. So in the end, rather than feeling out of my depth, I was able to contribute through my own unique set of skills and provide the business case and marketing pitch for the platform.
Here it is Pitch: Go Go Bus Pitch
It was a fantastic team with which to work and such an amazing opportunity to have been part of GovHack 2016. The technical skills, mashed up with problem solving, teamwork and presentation skills, make this a must do for any budding problem solver. The atmosphere and energy was great and something I would love to do again.
With the servers up, project done and delivered, all I can say now is that that was one awesome weekend.
Transfeed Team 2016
This week I’m going to talk about next week! Sure that makes sense I hear you say!!!
I’m off to a Hackermathon! It’s kinda like the FIRST Robotics comp, but with less time and without robots which is a shame because they’re really cool. Anyway next weekend is the annual GovHack, where teams come together for the weekend and try to create solutions to big data problems or processes for the government.
The most likely scenario and outcome from the weekend will be that an awesome collection of practical ideas will be developed that will prove we don’t really need half the government departments, we only need 5% of all public servants and our nation could be better run by 5 robots and a winged monkey! Once the government sees this, they’ll use their memory wiping ray gun thingy on everyone. Trust me! They have one. It’s real because I saw it in Men in Black. We will all forget the awesome efficient systems we designed and then come back next year to do it all over again!
Ok so now what’s it really all about? Well, basically what I said, but hopefully without the memory wiping. It gives innovative and disruptive people the chance to create some cool things which the government may actually use to solve real problems. I seriously can’t wait! Next Friday I’ll be heading to Canberra Grammar School to join a team I’ve never met before. It’s going to be awesome! I have no idea who I will meet there or what problems need solving, but the thought of the endless possibilities this presents is so exciting!
How crazy is the idea of meeting random people for the first time to solve a problem you have no idea about! I’ll be tweeting and Instagram as the weekend progresses. If anyone from Canberra wants to come along and solve a massive problem, then check out https://www.govhack.org/regions/act/ and get yourself booked in. It’s going to be amazing!
This week I'm going to cover both an awesome activity and a story of a team whose origins are most unlikely, yet remarkable in such a way. The team proved that you can achieve anything you set your sights on, even if you haven't exactly set your sights on it!
I love unique challenges and the FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) Robotics is just one of those. It's something I would have loved to have done when I was at school. I might have ended up as a coder, or engineer as this is a true hands on problem solving challenge. The closest I came was getting handcuffed to a flag pole at maths camp in year 8. However, I digress.
Over the years, I've seen snippets of different robotics challenges, but never something like this. With our federal politicians focussed on innovation, the story hit the headline news in Australia with the Prime Minister in attendance. The next thing I knew, my local high school is there, centre stage having won the Australian event!!! In that one exciting jaw dropping moment, I had to look into this in some more detail.
So to begin with what's it all about? Whilst I'm sure the official explanation on the FIRST Robotics website is way better and it has some cool vids, the challenge is essentially to design, build, program and operate a robot that can navigate its way around obstacles, score goals with balls, throw frisbees or balance on beams. It's an awesome mix that requires teams to plan strategies, problem solve, think 10 steps head and be ready at any moment to adapt! A wonderful and challenging opportunity for any student. The overall premise of the ‘sport’ is one of gracious professionalism, a valiant and honourable theme for a competition, so you know there’s way more to it than just winning.
So enter the Ulladulla Game of Drones, a ‘rookie team’ whose first year in the competition has thrust them into the spotlight as winners of our National Championships, destining them for St. Louis, smack bang in the middle of the USA!
The team started from a shout out by one of the Ulladulla High teachers to see if there were any interest. To begin with, there wasn’t much... A far cry from some other teams in the championships who have to limit the number of students in their team. However, if the story ended there it would be very short and there wouldn't have been a big community dinner to go to the other night.
Slowly but surely, interest started to trickle in and a team emerged with a variety of skills and talents from engineering to coding to media, but as I was told by Mason, the team's all star photographer and media man, "Everyone pitched in to do a bit of everything. We didn't have a huge team like other schools, who were able to specialise and just do one task. If we saw that someone needed help, everyone just got in there and helped them out."
Just for the record, the average size of a team is approximately 25 students! Although it can range anywhere from 2 to 150!!! Ulladulla High has 11!
This is what I love so much about this challenge. It's less about the robots and the completion and more about the teamwork, problem solving and the experiential learning along the way.
I asked the team how they kicked things off.
"We started out with a closed Facebook group. Then used email, chat to set up meetings. We worked over the summer holidays on this. The first few weeks it was each Saturday. Then during school time, it was Tues, Wed Thurs after school, or whenever needed,” said Mason.
Many afternoons turned into late nights as the team designed, built and tested their robot. The coding came down to Lara, Riley and Jackson.
"Some people were better at engineering than others and then some better at coding,” said Lara, who had to learn Java along the way. "With coding you tell the robot what to do. You use it to add and assigning commands to buttons."
Since the team only had experience in coding C++ they had to learn Java, really fast! So I asked them how they did this? "We used different websites to get the robot moving and using other resources to expand on this. Once you know the basics, it gets easy!” commented Lara. "Also YouTube is awesome!"
Without any expectations, or grand visions, the team went to the national championships held at Sydney Olympic. They were told they were a 'rookie team’ and were never going to win, yet they did! This is testament to both their persistence and their attitude, which is so important. If you have a negative attitude, you will never get anywhere. If you have a positive attitude and give it your all… You can achieve anything! For all the details on the win, check out Jackson’s awesome speech!
This was a major project management task and something a lot of adults could never see through. That's what impressed me so much when I was talking with these guys. I admired the tenacity to just get in there and learn something completely new, help each other out and work towards a shared goal that had so many individually complex tasks to it that all had to be somehow drawn together.
I asked the team members what they wanted to get out of this. I loved their answer. It's about learning some news skills, but mostly about meeting new people and making new friends. We never had the intention to win. It was always just being able to be part of it.
Check out our Australian team from Ulladulla High
House of Ulladulla Game of Drones on Faceboook
And a video on their journey Game of Drones
Check out all the awesome FIRST Robotics stuff on their website and
#omgrobots on Instagram!
@FIRSTweets on Twitter!
https://www.facebook.com/FIRSTOfficial/ on Faceboook