Spruce Glen students place fourth at Skills Ontario competition

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Photos courtesy of Una Pape

Main photo: Spruce Glen students (front from left) Cameron Smith, Ryan Marshall, Aaron McKee and Corson Earl with their teacher and coach Una Pape and their Gator-bot at the junior VEX IQ robotics challenge at Skills Ontario

Spruce Glen teacher Una Pape is over the moon, and the same could be said for the students she coached for the recent Skills Ontario elementary competition.

On May 7, both the junior VEX IQ robotics team and the intermediate construction team placed fourth in their respective competitions against teams coming from across Ontario.

They were nervous going in, said Pape, but their hard work paid off in their results.

“Our robotics team, their initial feeling was that their robot wasn’t going to be good enough. It’s that whole lesson of bigger isn’t always better,” said Pape. “I think once they started moving their robot around in the team challenges, they realized they had a pretty good bot. It couldn’t do a lot of the things the fancier ones could but it did what it was supposed to and how they had practiced with it, so I think they were pretty proud of themselves.”

They placed second in the team challenge, one of three components they had to complete along with a remote-control individual challenge and an autonomous challenge that required them to program their bot to perform specific tasks. That second-place team finish put them in fourth place overall.

And the intermediate construction team “was beaming by the end of it,” said Pape, adding that one of the four team members had to bow out at the last minute due to illness. The remaining team members had to rearrange their four-person plan to three people. “Which I think they handled beautifully. They really held their composure and were true to their Muskoka roots with just being calm and patient and really precise.”

The construction team had to build a miniature, modest house in six hours, being mindful of using the materials in innovative ways and keeping the materials cost-effective. “Their construction was immaculate. They really took their time with it and got a lot of compliments from other people who had been doing that challenge for a couple years,” said Pape. Out of 17 teams they came fourth.

Intermediate Construction team (front from left) Nathan Thompson, Brayden Davidson and Colby Knowlton with teacher and coach Una Pape. Missing: Josh Markell. (Photo courtesy of Una Pape)

Intermediate Construction team (front from left) Nathan Thompson, Brayden Davidson and Colby Knowlton with teacher and coach Una Pape. Missing: Josh Markell. (Photo courtesy of Una Pape)

When she applied, she said she wanted two teams from the school to be involved—one junior and one intermediate—and would take any category they could get into. The elementary competitions include character animation, green energy, LEGO mechanical and robotics challenges, technology, TV/video production, and workplace safety, and the two challenges the Spruce Glen teams ended up participating in—VEX IQ robotics and construction.

Even beyond the competition itself, Pape said it was a great experience for the students. “It really brings out that whole STEAM curriculum—science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It just combines all of these things so beautifully and gets kids excited. They got to see all of these colleges and outside agencies that support these skills and trades. That’s an eye-opening world for what could be in their future. I know every member of my construction team said they can’t wait to come and take classes in the welding room and the wood shop at Huntsville High School.”

Huntsville High School (HHS) woodworking teacher Jeff Brady helped the construction team prepare for the competition. They spent a day in the wood shop at HHS, learning to measure, cut and build safely with the tools. Brady also spent time at Spruce Glen working with the students.

Another HHS teacher, Ian McTavish, who runs the Hoya Robotics team, helped the robotics team, particularly helping them to understand the basics of the coding system. “They built their robot and started practicing with it daily on the stage at school. They did a lot of testing and revamping—there were some structure changes with the bot when they realized they wanted it to do certain other things. There were really great scientific methods happening of testing and validating,” said Pape.

The school was able to purchase its VEX IQ equipment thanks to support from Spruce Glen’s parent council and TLDSB funding. Principal Kelly Picken and former teacher Denise Jordan were also provided great support for the teams, said Pape.

Spruce Glen was one of eight Trillium Lakes District School Board (TLDSB) schools to participate in the Skills Ontario elementary competition and, as far as Pape knows, is the first Muskoka-area school to attend. She’s hoping to help grow the participation across the school board.

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1 Comment

  1. A great way for kids who learn ‘hands on’ to show their skills. We need to provide more opportunities like this in our schools, starting as early as possible.

    Too often we push for ‘traditional’ forms of learning without considering what skills students need for future.

    Well done Una Pape, Kelly Picton, and HHS staff in making this possible!

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