Murray Bridge High School's Christine Roberts-Yates wins teaching award for work with robots in disability unit

One of Australia's leading schools for students with disability is here in the Murraylands.

Murray Bridge High is gaining a national reputation – and recently won a Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award – through the efforts of disability unit director Christine Roberts-Yates, her staff and the students they teach.

Dr Roberts-Yates sees robots, computers and other interactive devices not just as teaching tools, but as a means of placing students with disability on a level playing field with their peers.

Stepping into her classroom is like stepping five or 10 years into the future.

"There are two schools of thought: one is dead against robots, one says this is the 21st century and if we don't go with them we'll be left behind," she said.

"We bring the robots in at every opportunity.

"I'll script the robots, Liz will choreograph them; the robot presents the lesson.

"This morning, the robots explained why you have to groom a rabbit, because it can't regurgitate hairballs."

Robots were entertaining, fun, non-judgmental, gave positive feedback and reduced sensory overload for students with autism.

"For students who don't care for physical activity, the robots will model tai chi or yoga ... if they're reluctant musicians, they'll encourage them to play the piano – there's a whole range of stuff they'll encourage them to do," she said.

"He'll instruct them on how to build a V8 engine, he'll instruct them on how to build Leonardo da Vinci's self-supporting bridge."

She told the story of one autistic student who had shunned the robots until one day, when they sat down with a bot and held a half-hour conversation, with a teacher inputting questions and responses.

The school is about to join with the CSIRO to analyse the benefits of social-assistive robots.

"One wants to inspire others, and through inspiring, one transforms," she said.

"I suppose one has transformed education for students with disability.

"We want them to be as productive members of the community as we can."

Innovator: Teaching award winner Christine Roberts-Yates with "Phil", Thomas Hopper and Jason Spackman. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Innovator: Teaching award winner Christine Roberts-Yates with "Phil", Thomas Hopper and Jason Spackman. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

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