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Kids tackle water pollution with 'found object' prototypes

Clare Peddie, Chris Russell, June 16, 2021 7:00PM News Corp Australia Network

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Man-made pollution: a discarded plastic bags lies entangled on a tropical coral reef while scuba divers swim past in the background. Picture: Getty Images. media_cameraMan-made pollution: a discarded plastic bags lies entangled on a tropical coral reef while scuba divers swim past in the background. Picture: Getty Images.


Reading level: green

Robots will help people clear rubbish from polluted water worldwide, say year 7 students at South Australia’s Westminster School, who have designed robots to do the dirty work and tested prototypes* in the school’s pool.

Anna, 12, said she initially felt “really sad and overwhelmed” to learn about the global problem of plastic pollution but said it was good to explore solutions, and her prototype “performed really well”.

It worked a bit like a V-shaped broom, sweeping the water’s surface and scooping up bottles before driving them back to the person collecting the rubbish.

“Robots can be more efficient, faster, and can go further into the water,” she said. “There are things humans can’t do that robots can do, to help us with our environmental problems.”

Water rubbish collector media_cameraSA’s Westminster School Year 7 students Ashwin and Axel guide one of their prototype Sphero Bolt Driven Water Collection Devices while Anna and Aijay watch the progress in the school’s pool. Picture: Mark Brake.

The prototypes were made using simple “found” materials, powered and manoeuvred* by a Sphero robot. Students also wrote the code to program the robot’s activity. Coding and robotics teacher Ross Willoughby said the students were able to develop “computational* and creative thinking” through a connection to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Aijay, 12 enjoyed learning, while “having fun doing it”.

“The whole idea was to understand what was really going on and how we can change it,” she said. “So then, when we grow up, the whole world isn’t going to be filled with rubbish.”

The school’s new $16m Inquiry and Innovation Hub includes robotics and engineering equipment, an industry-standard laser cutter/printer and the kind of sophisticated* physics, chemistry, psychology and biology spaces ideal for pursuing* such ambitious projects.

“In a state committed to the evolution of new technology and industry, it is vital that students are ready to make a meaningful contribution in South Australia and be positioned to extend this across the nation and globe,” principal Simon Shepherd said.

“We’re focused on preparing kids for life beyond school, developing the whole person as well as their cognitive* capacity*.”

All the better to tackle the great challenges of the century, including the 17 SDGs identified by the United Nations (UN) within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015.

Water rubbish collector media_cameraWestminster School principal Simon Shepherd said the school is preparing students for life beyond school. Picture Mark Brake

The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs counts the progress toward each goal by measuring against four categories: targets, events, publications and actions.

The goals range in focus from social goals like eliminating poverty and achieving gender equality to environmental goals like responsible consumption and climate change action.

Goal 14 specifically addresses life below the surface of the world’s water and aims to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’.

The Westminster School robotics program has no shortage of potential application in a country surrounded by water and comes after the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean suggested single-use plastics would be phased out of the eastern state by 2025.


  • prototype: a first or early version of something
  • manoeuvred: moved skilfully or carefully
  • computational: using or relating to computers
  • sophisticated: advanced
  • pursuing: targeting, going after
  • cognitive: conscious mental activity or exercise like thinking, remembering or reasoning
  • capacity: ability


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  1. Which school has developed the prototypes?
  2. What does SDG stand for?
  3. Who developed the 17 SDGs?
  4. How is progress toward each of the 17 goals measured?
  5. What is Goal 14?


1. Design your own
Draw your own detailed design for a water-cleaning robot. Label the parts and provide captions that explain how your robot would work.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Technologies

2. Extension
Look up the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Which one feels the most important to you, personally? Explain why you would like to see that goal achieved and propose 3 things that could help it happen.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Ethical Understanding

Summarise the article
A summary is a brief statement of the main points of something. It does not usually include extra detail or elaborate on the main points.

Use the 5W & H model to help you find the key points of this article. Read the article carefully to locate who and what this article is about, and where, when, why and how this is happening. Once you have located this information in the article, use it to write a paragraph that summarises the article.

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