Annika Pint: Bringing Kids and STEM Together, One Robot at a Time

As adults, we understand that science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) are important. We know they’re the reason we have safe bridges, sleek skyscrapers, new cures for diseases, missions to outer space … and smartphones that take the perfect selfies. But for kids, these are just the end results. They’re thinking: learning this stuff is hard; is it really worth the effort?

That’s where people like Annika Pint and FIRST Robotics come in. Annika is the FIRST Robotics Administrator at the Toronto District School Board, and she knows that kids learn best by doing. And if what they’re doing is fun and compelling, they’re going to want to keep doing it.

Annika Pint with students in the TDSB

Annika Pint works with students and teachers in the Toronto District School Board, helping them to learn all about coding and robotics.

Annika’s job is introducing STEM to teachers and students through LEGO and robotics competitions, which allow kids to code and build and program in a hands-on, exciting way. Read on to find out more about Annika’s amazing career, and how she’s helping build the next generation of STEM leaders.

Q1. Could you tell us a bit about your job?
A1: I provide support and training for teachers who would like to engage their students and teach them valuable skills by either integrating coding and robotics into the curriculum or by starting FIRST LEGO League Junior, FIRST LEGO League, or FIRST Robotics Competition teams at their schools.

Q2. How did you find your way to this career? 
A2: After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto, I became an intermediate science teacher … [I gave students] opportunities to research real-world problems—and to design, create, and test solutions for them.

When asked to coach the FIRST LEGO League robotics team at my school, I was reluctant because I didn’t know how to build or program robots, but finally I agreed—and I learned alongside the students on my all-girls team. I also realized that building and programming robots was a great way for students to learn about engineering design principles, with the added benefit of developing coding, collaboration, and communication skills!

As I witnessed all of the amazing benefits that participation in FIRST LEGO League robotics had on students, I decided that I wanted to share this knowledge and passion with as many teachers as possible so that their students could benefit in the same ways as had mine.

Q3. Why is robotics important?
A3: Students need to develop skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, resilience, and perseverance. Although participation in robotics is not the only way in which students can do this, it is a very effective way to engage learners of all kinds, and it helps foster the global competencies that student will need to be successful in school and in life. The more comfortable, prepared, and supported teachers feel about introducing coding and robotics to their students, the more likely it is that students will have learning experiences in which they can develop these skills.

Q4. What is the best part abot what you do?
A4: The best part is seeing [kids] persevere despite frustration … and seeing students have so much fun while learning! It also provides me with an opportunity to keep learning myself, which is one of my favourite things to do! Not a day goes by that I can answer every question I am asked. At first, I felt “stupid” for not knowing all of the answers, but now I get so excited because I know that I am going to learn something new!

Q5. What is your advice for others who are interested in a career like yours?
A5: Volunteer at as many FIRST events as possible and in as many different roles as possible or, even better, coach a FIRST team! You will have an opportunity to learn about coding and robotics and to witness firsthand the positive impact that participation in FIRST programs can have on students.

Learn about other fantastic women of STEM and how to jump-start your tech career in CanCode’s Your Future In Code magazine at https://www.firstroboticscanada.org/cancode/magazine/.

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