Innovation Lecture 2016 – Marita Cheng

On Wednesday September 14th I attended the Warren Centre Innovation Lecture 2016. This year’s speaker was Marita Cheng, founder of RoboGals and the 2012 Young Australian of the Year.

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This was the second time I have seen Marita speak, the first time being earlier this year at the Future Schools Expo in Sydney. Marita is an inspirational and engaging speaker. Her style is very natural, laid back with lots of humour. The venue for the lecture was the ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Sydney CBD, a fitting venue for this eagerly anticipated event.

Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland and graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics and Computer Science from Melbourne. Marita’s qualifications are clearly very impressive. She also spoke of her time at Singularity University, a benefit corporation that provides educational programs, innovative partnerships and a startup accelerator. She recently attended a 10 week course at Singularity and learnt from some amazing people in the fields of technology, robotics, computer science and more. You can see a day in the life at Singularity University filmed by Marita here. It was here that she gained valuable experience in setting up her own company, and through networking with other people she got the idea for Aipoly, an amazing app that helps blind people see by using artificial intelligence to identify objects using the camera and then the app speaks the object to the user. The app can identify hundreds of objects and colours and is soon to be able to understand complex scenes. This is another example of her incredible vision and for making the world a better place.

Marita is probably best known for founding the RoboGals education initiative. RoboGals is now a huge success with chapters in many countries and helping thousands of young people to be engaged in engineering and robotics. But in the early days just getting volunteers, and her friends, to help out was tough. Her story shows that with grit, determination and hard work anything is possible. Read more about RoboGals here.

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Marita now runs 2Mar Robotics, an innovative company that is dedicated to providing robotics solutions for people with disabilities. It is an inspirational initiative and she spoke candidly of the processes involved from setting up a company and getting her ideas off the ground, and hopefully to market. Marita and her team have designed some amazing machines to help people that really need them. Her ideas are rooted in making the world a better place,

“Engineering is all around us, so it’s important that the engineers who create our world are as diverse as the people who live in it.”

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Marita’s story is engaging and inspirational and she has certainly inspired me to continue to deliver an engaging and exciting STEM program at my school and aim to inspire the next generation of female engineering superstars to make the world a better place to live in. In the world of STEAM – E is for engineering!

Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.

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As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!

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Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.

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The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.

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His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an Edpuzzle.com which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!

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