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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Asha Sundararajan, Director, Children’s Technology Workshop [CTW], Mumbai talks to Monarose Sheila Pereira about mentoring students won the International Vex Worlds Robotic Competition.

What are your educational qualifications?
I did my Masters in Education from Columbia University, New York

What was the competition like?
Four children from Mumbai - Anav Agarwal (10) and Kashyan; Damani (10) from Ecole Mondiale World School; Aadit Lakhani (11) and Mahir Shah(11) from Jamnabhai Narsee School won the Sportsmanship Award, representing India at the 2016 VEX Worlds Robotic Competition, held in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. The teams had to design and build a robot to play against other teams from aroundthe world in a game-based engineering challenge.More than 1,100 robotics teams comprising of more than 15,000 students from 30 nations gathered at VEX Worlds to compete during three days of intense back-to- back matches for the chance to become World Champions. These Mumbai boys faced stiff competition from students in countries like USA, Canada, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The students earned the respect and admiration of other teams at the event through their interactions and demonstrated enthusiasm and excitement throughout the event. Each part of the solution has multiple possible approaches to solving a problem. It is here that the most important aspect of a human is visible, “How do people react when the chips are down? Do they face it with dignity and focus, or tantrums and defeatism?”

What role did you play?
I am their mentor. I work with coaches to design multiple approaches to the solution, which are in line with the abilities of the students. We then design a training program for the student. The coach Sujit Kumar Pal then spent 6 hours a week over 5 months working with students ensuring a deeper conceptual understanding of students. Each team member brings to the table different set of skill sets. The training program has a cohesive outcome, but small variations to allow all students to understand the 4 aspects of robot competition: strategy and design, robot development, program testing, and competition execution. Students worked hard, followed a plan and reviewed their efforts continuously planning their robot-building.  Half-way through the training process, they become content specialists as well. Aadit became the lead programmer, not a single ball or error would escape Kashyan’s notice, Maahir would ensure that the teleop was perfect and worked to increase the consistency and accuracy of the robot, and Anav’s shooter building abilities took their team ahead. When they reached the world competition, there were additional challenges which were individually tackled.

The Robot that they made took part in the VEX IQ Bankshot Challenge in the Elementary Section. The Robot had to move across the maze and knock off 16 balls on the cutout ramp. Collect up to maximum 44 balls on the maze and dump them across the fence. And lastly, park the robot on the ramp, all in a minute. Points were scored according to the no. of balls collected, knocked off, dumped and parking. There were 3 different rounds of competition. Our Robot took part in all the categories. More than 1,100 robotics teams comprising of more than 15,000 students from 30 nations gathered at VEX Worlds to compete during three days of intense back-to- back matches for the chance to become World Champions.

What is your job profile?
I am an entrepreneur. My vision is to create an environment where a community of learners, especially middle and high school students can nurture their talents and interests. My week comprises of 3 types of activities, identifying curricular opportunities, trying these activities with students, and developing execution models for teachers or students using a flipped classroom and blended model of learning. My initial investment was on 20 Lego kits, followed by an annual investment on new kits and replacement parts.

How has your training helped you?
My training in Education at Columbia universality taught me to create individual learning programs for students, thus at CTW, we have over 250 projects in different fields of technology, Lego EV3, Arduino, Intel Galileo, underwater rovers, and more. In addition, we can and seamlessly vary training to suit the needs of our students. The Masters training is 2 years and 32 credits. It included teaching Science, Math, English reading and writing, History, Philosophy and Science. We had to create a curriculum as our final project. I also got to train with robotics. Every day I had to write a 1 paragraph reflection on the day’s work, etc. These blog reflections make for fun memories, and give us an opportunity for insightful thinking.

What is the remuneration in this field?
As a fresher in India, one can earn anywhere between INR 40,000/- to 80,000/- while in the USA it is about $200000. It takes about 4+ years to become an accomplished professional. As an established professional in India, anywhere between INR 3,00,000/- to 12,00,000/-

What are some the advantages and disadvantages in this field?
The advantage of this field is the ability to find new ideas and innovation that can be patented and sold. It gives me and the students a great sense of achievement. Some of the difficulties in the field are adequate access to information and technology and facilitation time.

What are your plans for the future?
For the future I plan to facilitating and creating STEM labs in schools.

What message do you have for children?
My advice to students is - do not give up! You only live once, live it well.

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