SR Hacks at UofT
by Bryan Reigate and Zach Lawrence
For the first time in the history of the tournament, WillowWood participated in SR Hacks 2023. “SR Hacks” is the coding and engineering component in the larger Science Rendezvous event that is hosted by the University of Toronto. The team of Matthew Choi, Niki So, Scott Taylor, and Lochlan Ewing were given two weeks to create a device that would improve one aspect of a person’s mental and/ or physical health. For their project, the team created a mediation dispenser out of household materials and coded a Micro:bit to operate their device. Along with Zach and Bryan, the team attended the finals at U of T on May 13. Out of 15 schools that submitted a project, we finished in 4th place!
This has been a great year for the Middle School, as we have been able to partake in so many fun activities in and outside of the classroom. In a year full of special memories, this event is one of my favourites. While I never doubted their abilities, right from the beginning I was struck by the modest confidence the team always showed. Every time Zach and I presented a question, they had an answer, or they worked together to find a solution to a problem that arose during the engineering and debugging stages. Presenting in front of any live audience can be a very daunting task, let alone in front of a panel of university-level judges. The team was more than up for presenting their device and defending their project. Matthew, Niki, Scott, and Lochlan held their own for nearly twenty minutes and answered some very tough questions from the judges confidently and gracefully. I know that when I was their age, I could never achieve what they did.
Coming out of a pandemic, much has been written about the detrimental impact on students’ ability to learn and practice collaborative skills. Our SR Hacks team is living proof that collaborative learning is something that young learners need and want and that when they have the chance to follow their creative pursuits, they can surpass all expectations and make their mentors proud.
The best part of the competition was seeing the students break off into pairs during the development phase and collaborate on the part of the project (coding or engineering) that best suited them. I think that group work gets taken for granted at times, when, in fact, that’s how most of our existence: other animals, insects, and even microscopic organisms get things done. Increasingly, we are learning that nothing thrives in a vacuum. As a student myself, group work was a part of the class or course that you did near the end of a unit, a fun “reward” evaluation that you got to achieve with your friends after completing two or three independently. Thankfully, we’re seeing a paradigm shift in education on this. Watching the different groups present their products, it became apparent who was the group leader, the designer, the coder, and so on. While some might fear that these labels constrict how students see themselves, I see it as an opportunity for students to identify how they contributed to the whole.
Moreover, in time and with some teacher support, students may develop the courage to vie for leadership, relying on their experiences as a coder, engineer, designer, or “just” a nondescript participant to bolster them in said position. A genuine rotation of students in various positions results not only in a confident generation but one that is more equitable and who sees themselves reflected in what society achieves across any industry. What our students achieved was amazing, and Bryan and I are very proud of their collaborative efforts.