Stephan van Haren, digital technology and physics teacher at the school, was recognised in April with an Inspiration All-Star award and inducted into the STEM Hall of Fame at the VEX Robotics World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

The passionate educator, who has been working at St Peter’s for 20 years, says the recognition was a great honour.

Aside from starting a robotics team at his own school, van Haren is known for organising five robotics championships for students in Manawatū and helping to set up a Central Robotics Trust, along with some of his former students. 

“Basically we wanted to get more funding ... for the region rather than for individual schools,” he says.

Through the trust, van Haren has been able to purchase a number of robotics kits which local schools can access. 

“I loan them out to different schools so they can get started and then see if it's for them, and usually when they get hooked they're into it,” he says.

Van Haren has been hooked on robotics since he first became involved with VEX 10 years ago, and says the VEX competitions have a fantastic ethos which encourages students to work together.

“It's not only about technical skills, programming skills, mobile skills, but it's also about cooperation collaboration, people skills and communication,” he says.

“It's an all round program. For example, the programmer of the team ... sometimes they need to wait for the builder to finish building the robot, but if they plan it properly, then the designer can tell the builder what to build and the designer can tell the programmer what the program is, so they can all work on the same robot at the same time.”

And for teachers, van Haren says getting students involved with the VEX competitions can make engaging students in authentic learning a breeze. 

“...as a teacher it makes life really easy because all we have to do is provide the gear,” he says.

“The students are self-motivated, self-directed, every year the competition changes so there is a new challenge for the students to work on.

“They do the problem solving, they set their own programs, what they want to achieve and they’ve got to learn how to do it.

“And so, as a teacher, all you have to do is help them in a system, so it becomes quite easy rather than having to say ‘do this today, do that tomorrow’, they have the whole year’s program in front of them.”

And for students who aren’t so interested in programming or building, there are other learning activities which can complement the robotics program, for example, sometimes he sets students to work filming and reporting on the competition and its lead up.