x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE schoolchildren participate in Stem project during break

More than 200 Emirati pupils are participating in Tech Quest, a two-week hands-on initiative that introduces them to science, technology, engineering and math.

Teacher Ahmad Al Zaben shows pupils how to control and fly a drone during the two-week TechQuest programme at the Applied Technology High School in Mohammed bin Zayed City. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Teacher Ahmad Al Zaben shows pupils how to control and fly a drone during the two-week TechQuest programme at the Applied Technology High School in Mohammed bin Zayed City. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // While most youngsters are off enjoying their spring break, about 240 Emirati children from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain gave up their holidays to return to the classroom – and they consider themselves lucky to be doing so.

They were chosen from about 600 hopefuls to take part in Tech Quest, a two-week, hands-on initiative that introduces pupils to the Stem education subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.

There are no prizes for participating, no trophies or fancy meals. Learning is the ultimate reward.

“I love to learn, and I want to be a scientist someday, so it helps me,” said Sarah Al Hosani, 11, a pupil at Glenelg School of Abu Dhabi. “It’s better than sitting on the iPad at home, lazing around, watching TV.”

Plus, the activities are amazing, said Yasmeen Fozi, 13.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s for my future. Now is nothing, the future is ... it’s all about the future.”

Yasmeen and Sarah were taking part in the healthcare module, a class being taught in partnership with the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation.

Dr Kevin Cleary, the technical director of the bioengineering initiative at the institute in Washington DC, developed a Lego Mindstorms robotics program to help the children understand the significant role technology plays in healthcare.

Using the kit, the pupils built a robot that could simulate a biopsy. Their challenge was to extract a chickpea – representing a cyst – from a small plastic cup filled with red jelly – representing the body.

Using Dr Cleary’s program, the children guided robotic arms to use a wooden needle to remove the chickpea from the jelly.

Saud Al Yahyaee, 12, also a pupil at Glenelg, said the exercise drove home an important message.

“Sometimes in surgery, our hands shake but with the robot, it’s steady. It can’t shake,” he said. “The operation will be easier, more precise. It’s very fun and we learn something from it.”

The task was one of four the children will complete by the end of the 10-day programme at the Applied Technology High School in Mohammed bin Zayed City. Every two days, they moved on to a new module that teaches them about another Stem subject.

The modules are mechatronics, semi-conductors and aviation.

In mechatronics, a mixture of mechanics and electronics, pupils are introduced to 3D printers and learn how they can be used for a wide range of purposes, from creating plastic napkin holders to paediatric surgery.

The children are challenged to develop a board game and design the playing pieces, using the 3D printers to produce them.

In semiconductors, the pupils learn a simple programming language called Scratch and use it to create games on Raspberry Pi, a simple computer the size of a credit card that costs less than Dh100.

The final module, aviation, teaches the youngsters how to program and fly drones to fight fires, deliver mail or carry out surveillance.

“The purpose of it is to know the uses of the drones, how to fly and control them, and there are some missions,” said Ahmad Al Zaben, 30, a teacher from Jordan.

“We connect the technology to the reality. So, we’re thinking about the city of the future and the uses of the drones in the future.”

Ahmed Al Dahieri, 11, who wants to be a pilot, was grateful for the chance to take part in Tech Quest.

“It changes our lives. It makes us smarter,” he said. “We know now how to program robots and we know now how to fly drones and we can control it, and tomorrow we’ll do more. It’s very nice and we enjoy every class. It’s very interesting and it helps us to know the future.”

rpennington@thenational.ae