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Hands up for STEM

Dr Thompson’s Year 9 STEM students have been channelling technology to construct bionic hands using Bluetooth, as well as using Augmented Reality to tour the world!

Better...stronger...faster. Anyone old enough to remember the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man with Steve Austin, the fictional former astronaut who acquired superpowers when he was rebuilt using bionic implants? What about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s near indestructible Terminator or Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand in The Empire Strikes Back? As Hollywood can attest, bionics have long captured our imaginations, fuelled perhaps by a desire to build ‘better…stronger… faster’ human bodies.

The term ‘bionics’ was first used in the 1960s. It combines the prefix ‘bio’—meaning life—with the ‘nics’ of electronics. Put simply, bionics is the study of mechanical systems that function like living organisms or parts of living organisms.

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This week, Dr Thompson’s students have been ‘getting to grips’ with bionics, starting with the construction of a finger. Using Arduino – an open-source electronic platform – they learnt how to program a robotic finger.

Once they’d mastered the art of waggling their finger, the students moved on to the next stage: making their finger move using Bluetooth technology. The revolutionary aspect of Bluetooth devices is that they implement radio waves instead of wires and cables to connect between devices.

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Bluetooth devices contain a tiny computer chip with a Bluetooth radio and software that enables them to connect. It’s this technology that enables our phones to connect with our cars and our iPods to connect with our phones. Bluetooth technology is now being implemented into prosthetic devices, allowing amputees to experience more ease in movement and greater stability.

Working in pairs, our Year 9 students incorporated Bluetooth to make their fingers move!

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The students are now working in groups of four to build a whole hand. Initially, the hand will be wired, before they progress to making it move using Bluetooth.

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The students also demonstrated their augmented reality (AR) technology skills that they’d acquired during lockdown when Wenona moved to the Athenaeum Learning Pathway (ALP). Just as the mobile game Pokémon Go sent hundreds of millions of players wandering the streets in search of virtual monsters, our Year 9 students used their time at home to overlay computer-generated imagery on real-world environments by designing an app for a specific audience. They had to think creatively about how they could use AR to navigate the world in a 3D environment.

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Using Merge Cube, the students were able to learn and create in entirely new ways, using their intellectual curiosity to create virtual objects that they could hold in the palm of their hand and share with their peers. This included a 3D Big Ben, an interactive globe and even an ice-hockey table.

It was fantastic to see how the use of technology has extended our students’ learning in creative and innovative ways.

Well done Dr Thompson and well done Year 9 STEM!