Innovation Saskatchewan, partners look to bring robotics and coding to north Sask.

Digital literacy is the name of the game for RoboX — a new program coming to northern Saskatchewan that teaches young students about robotics and coding.

RoboX program offered to students in kindergarten to Grade 8

Students in northern Saskatchewan will have the opportunity to learn about robotics and coding thanks to RoboX, a program developed by innovation Saskatchewan and other partners. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Digital literacy — via coding and building robots — is the name of the game for a new program coming to northern Saskatchewan.

The goal of RoboX is "to increase awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," according to a Wednesday news release from Innovation Saskatchewan, which developed the program.

"Children exposed to those subjects at the elementary and high school levels are more likely to continue studying them after graduating," said the release from the provincial government agency, which focuses on implementing innovation priorities.

There are two parts to the program, the release said: helping teachers learn fun ways to develop robotics and coding skills with their students, and hosting hands-on workshops that give students a chance to build and program their own robots.

The program was developed in partnership with the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Saskatoon Industry-Education Council, and was piloted with the Northern Lights School Division and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, said Saskatoon Industry-Education Council executive director Janet Uchacz-Hart.

Robots in the classroom

The industry education council trained more than 28 teachers from 10 communities in northern Saskatchewan to incorporate robotics and coding into their classwork.

The science centre's outreach team has also hosted student engagement workshops at schools in those 10 communities.

Children are enjoying the experience so far, according to Wes Jickling, the CEO of Innovation Saskatchewan.

"They are very excited. That's typically what we see when the robots arrive in the classroom," he said. "Kids have heard about it and they want to see it, and they're very interested."

Jickling said the young people learn about the robots at a quick pace.

The Grade 1 students were given a robotic mouse and issued a challenge. They had to program the mouse to get through a maze.

He said the evolution of the program is ultimately up to the teachers, but kids start off with basic robotics and programming tools and challenges, like getting the robotic mouse through a maze.

"As we get up to the older grades … they'll start using circuits and thinking about lights and sensors and motors, to start giving the robot some autonomy," Jickling said.

Tina Beaudry-Mellor, the minister responsible for Innovation Saskatchewan, said RoboX will create a passion for life-long learning while preparing students for jobs in the future.

"Technology is changing how we live and work, and digital skills such as coding and robotics are becoming more and more essential," she said.