World’s first Engineering Dojo teaches robotics to 10-14-year-olds

22 Apr 2013

Inspired by CoderDojo, which has spread to 16,000 children in 26 countries, Ireland’s first Engineering Dojo took place last week after enlisting the support of 15 companies in the north-west.

The fully booked out Engineering Dojo involved volunteers and mentors from industry and education who facilitated a class of young people (aged 10-14) building robots using Lego MindStorm. 

A significant number of locally based engineering and manufacturing companies, as well as IT Sligo and Sligo VEC, took part in the initiative.

The event was organised by John Nugent, IDA’s regional manager in the north-west and Cara McGinley, Sligo VEC.

Speaking about the initiative, Nugent said: “Engineering Dojo is a free, voluntary movement aimed at creating an environment in which young people can learn some elements of engineering while at the same time having some fun.”

“Engineering Dojo is starting in Sligo because of the strength of engineering in the locality across education and training and a range of industries.”

Ethos borrowed from CoderDojo

“Engineering Dojo borrows much of its ethos and approach from CoderDojo and will complement this hugely successful initiative locally and perhaps beyond,” Nugent said.

Keith McManus, head of the Department of Computing and Creative Practices at IT Sligo, said: “An initiative such as this is an ideal way to promote the creative spirit that is already a distinguishable feature of the engineering sector in the north-west.

“It’s been an honour for IT Sligo to have hosted the forum’s launch and we’re looking forward to playing our role in enshrining it as a vibrant educational tool in the region later this year.”

Nugent said four teams completed a robot that travels and does some tasks.

“The aim is to energise the kids so that they get a feel for engineering and then we will launch a weekly Engineering Dojo in IT Sligo starting September. The weekly event will involve mentors from volunteer companies locally who will give their time to help bring the kids along in the same way that Coder Dojo does for programming. 

“The stakeholders involved want to present the north-west as the ‘home’ of certain disciplines within engineering and to show that the region is responding to the needs of industry and taking the lead in this area to ensure that the region maintains its reputation as a great place to do business, specifically in manufacturing. Engineering Dojo will help us in the effort to reposition engineering as a significant part of the local economy.”

The Centre for Lifelong Learning and ICT Department at St Angela’s College, Sligo, assisted with the robotics demonstration at the Engineering Dojo launch.

Dr Niamh Plunkett, director of the CLL, said this new initiative for the north-west complements the college’s commitment to outreach and creative learning opportunities for young people.

MindStorm Kits were provided by St Angela’s College, one of 30 international award winners of the Google RISE Award for the Robotics and Mobile Phone Application Camp for children aged 9-15 years.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years