N.W.T. online STEM challenge gives kids a fun and educational activity during COVID-19 restrictions

·3 min read

With students now home all day, it can be challenging to find different ways to keep them entertained.

But the newly-created NWT Robotics and Engineering club is hosting a 10-week STEM challenge for kids across the territory to help with that.

"By doing this it allows us to create engagement in other communities and support other community leaders that want to offer clubs there," said Matthew Dares, an organizer with NWT Robotics and Engineering.

"And also just to provide people with the opportunity to develop skills that they might not have had the time to put into otherwise."

Dares is also an organizer with the Inuvik Robotics and Engineering club, but due to restrictions on gathering under the COVID-19 pandemic, the club hasn't been able to meet on a weekly basis, as it normally would.

He wanted to make sure that this challenge was open to kids and teens across the territory.

The organization has partnered with Skills Canada, the Aurora Research Institute and Actua, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach provider that has donated equipment.

Submitted by Matthew Dares
Submitted by Matthew Dares

Increasing STEM in the territory

The first challenge — to design a video game — began Wednesday. Young people can participate in either beginner, intermediate or advanced levels.

Students are given links and tutorials which help them with self-directed challenges. Dares said office hours held twice a week on either Zoom or Google Hangouts.

He said there will be prizes each week, and participants will be added to a weekly draw for a big prize that could be a 3-D printer or virtual reality gaming set-up when the challenge ends. It will go until the end of June.

Dares said they have always wanted to find ways to increase participation in STEM activities across the territory, especially in robotics and programming. This challenge is an opportunity to do just that.

About 40 students are registered across eight communities in the N.W.T., and Dares said they are still taking registrations.

Dares said they have also partnered with Computers for Schools, which is helping them get computers in participants' homes who don't have one, and supporting those who have limited or no internet access.

He said it's aimed at students in Grades 6 to 12, but they are also taking participants that are older and younger.

Dares said "it's quite rewarding to make something yourself," and he hopes this will help the kids during this unusual and unstructured time.

Submitted by Janelle Cockney
Submitted by Janelle Cockney

'Cuts out some of the boredom'

15 year-old Kieran McCarthy has been a part of the Inuvik Robotics and Engineering club for about a year.

"It's a chance for me to have fun with robots and stuff, and coding," said the grade 9 student.

Not having the club anymore was disappointing for McCarthy, but he was excited when he heard about the STEM challenge.

McCarthy said he's looking forward to having a good time creating things while also learning. He first learned to code through the Inuvik club, and especially enjoys making video games.

He describes the robotics club as "fun ... and mind-bogglingly difficult."

It's not just the kids who are thankful for this challenge.

"I can guarantee you every parent will feel the same as I [do], and that is thank goodness there's something that is educational and fun for the kids," said Janelle Cockney, McCarthy's mother.

"It cuts out some of the boredom for sure, which alleviates some of the stress on parents."

She said that there is a learning curve with the online technology but believes that will improve.

Cockney said when the isolation measures are lifted, she would like to see the organization continue.

"I think it will bring a bit of joy to everyone's home. As a parent, joy in your kid is something you look for."