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Holy Name of Mary College School students prepare to set up their robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition.Supplied

Holy Name of Mary College School (HNMCS) has become a powerhouse in competitive robotics, punching above its weight as a small girls’ school. Close to one-third of the 150 students in Grades 9 to 12 are involved in the Senior School Robotics team – a ratio that is rare to find in any school.

The independent Catholic school for girls in Grades 5 to 12 is located in Mississauga, in the Greater Toronto Area. Not only does the school demonstrate a high level of student passion about competing with robots, but it has also gained a reputation as a leader in using robotics in classroom instruction to foster skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and increasingly STEAM, which integrates the arts with STEM.

Robotics is part of the curriculum and co-curricular programming for students at all grade levels. Starting in the fifth grade, the students began by using LEGO to build robots. In Grades 7 and 8, competition becomes available, as students can join the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team.

The senior team competes at the highest level, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), and has won numerous awards, including as the winner of the Ontario District tournament in 2023.

“Starting with LEGO is a great way to spark interest in robotics,” says Elizabeth Guay, who is the mentor for the FLL team. “Many of the girls have enjoyed playing with LEGO for years and get excited about using it in a different way. And the coding software to bring movement to the LEGO robots is relatively easy to master.”

The girls develop a simple mission for their robot to accomplish, a task that brings in creativity, the STEAM skills. HNMCS continues to expand its incorporation of STEAM into robotics and other scientific and technical subjects.

“As educators of girls, our school recognized that STEAM can stimulate their interest in technical fields,” says Karen Kozma, who mentors the Senior School Robotics team and who originally developed HNMCS’s robotics program.

“We were one of the first schools to champion the STEM to STEAM transition, understanding that STEAM skills are increasingly important for everyone in today’s innovation economy. I always tell the students that the greatest technology or product isn’t going to succeed if you don’t design it to improve lives or you don’t bring creativity to selling it.”

When the school started the robotics program five years ago, it started showcasing the program with a STEM Day, says Dr. Kozma. “This year, our showcase is a full STEAM week. And our robot has even performed alongside our choir in the annual spring concert!”

The Middle School also has a design lab where students can develop creative projects using a variety of technologies, says Ms. Guay. “And this year, the students in the FLL tournament will pair their robot with an innovation project around the theme of bridging the arts and technology to make a unique experience.”

This fall, for the second time, the Senior School Robotics team will host the FLL Challenge Mississauga Qualifying Tournament, running the event for 24 teams from the GTA (including its own Middle School team).

“Our school is becoming the regional hub for robotics, STEM and STEAM,” says Dr. Kozma. “Not only has our senior team become one of the top teams in Ontario, but our experience in the integration of robotics and other technologies into the classroom is leading more schools, including from other provinces, to come to us for advice on how to replicate our success. It is very gratifying to see the progress the robotics program has achieved in just five years.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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