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Learning Robotics with One of the Coaches

On a Saturday morning in November, dozens of kids aged seven to 13 are signing onto a Zoom session with Go Green Youth Centre. Although Go Green has held many different programs for kids over the years, this year is different. There’s a new robotics program that has just begun and Mohid Sharif, one of the coaches, is leading the second day of classes.

Mohid is an enthusiastic coach. He knows what he is talking about and is clearly excited about robotics and computer programming in general. While it can be tricky to conduct these classes on Zoom, he and the two other coaches manage to pull it off.

About 50 to 60 kids in total participate, but they are broken up into smaller groups of eight to 10 across six classes. The robotics classes run throughout the day, with three dedicated coaches to lead them: Mohid, Hammad Siddiqui and Haider Ali.

After sitting in on three of these classes, I am impressed by how Mohid keeps the kids engaged and leads them through some beginner programming lessons on Scratch. As he teaches the students, I become curious about his own journey with robotics and Go Green Youth Centre.

“I actually attended the middle school that Go Green takes place in,” Mohid tells me, referring to Toronto’s Valley Park Middle School. He became interested in computer programming and robotics in high school where he took three programming and engineering courses and, in his final year, a robotics course. Currently, he is studying computer science and mathematics at the University of Toronto.

Mohid explains the program he is coaching which is intended to teach the students the fundamentals of robotics and will be taught in stages. The first stage focuses on coding in different programming languages, mainly Python, Java and C++. The next stage will be computer engineering which is where the participants will learn skills more closely related to robotics. This will set up the final robotics stage where students learn about creating machines with Arduino and Lego (which uses Lego building blocks).

The end goal is for students to be able to create simple computer programs in the different programming languages taught. They will also examine and create computers, machines and, ultimately, robots.

While Mohid misses the ability to provide one-on-one guidance to the students, which is impossible via Zoom, the students still ask questions and benefit from not having to commute or travel to participate. Students can take part who may not have been able to attend in person. It also offers an exciting way to teach kids new, sought-after skills while giving them a fun, structured weekend activity at home.

Mohid, for his part, loves being a coach. “I enjoy being able to teach kids about what I am passionate about,” he says. He explains how fun it is to create unique games with them every week while getting them interested in computer programming and robotics. He is especially excited by the prospect of some of these kids developing a similar passion for robotics. “Many decide at this early age that this is what they want to pursue,” he says.

The kids certainly seem to enjoy the classes, with several asking frequent questions throughout and one little girl happily showing off the shark-eating-fish game she made. Seeing the pride the students take in their work when they successfully complete a lesson makes it all the more worthwhile.

Mohid is looking forward to coaching for the next several months and is preparing for next week’s lesson: learning Python. Perhaps, he is setting some of these kids on a new path, such as a lifelong interest in robotics that could begin the journey of NASA’s next engineer.

Gillian Brandon-Hart

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