News and blog

Computer Science in the Junior School

Computer Science in the Junior School

In November, all of the girls in Years 2, 4 & 6 took part in the ‘Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge 2020’ during their Computer Science lessons. This is an online competition run by Oxford University, which involves solving complex problems against the clock, using computational thinking skills.

Our girls competed in their respective age categories against schools from all over the UK (241,348 students in total) and our average scores were between 6% and 12% above those of the equivalent age groups across the UK.

Eight of our Year 6 girls achieved scores in the top 10% nationally and were invited to participate in the prestigious online ‘Oxford University Computing Challenge 2021’ in February.

Oxford University Computing Challenge

Despite competing in the ‘OUCC’ during lockdown, five of our girls were awarded a ‘Merit Award’ and particular congratulations must go to Diya S. who missed out on a ‘Distinction Award’ by just 2 points, an even more impressive achievement in the context of just 31 ‘Distinction Awards’ being awarded nationally!

OUCC team

iCool Challenge

As last year’s Magnolian went to ‘print’, eight of our Year 6 girls participated in the ‘International CoSpace Online (iCool) Challenge 2020’. This event was organised by the ‘RoboCup Asia-Pacific’ international committee to provide an opportunity for students around the world to take part in CoSpace Virtual Robotics Challenges remotely, from home, during that difficult period. Over 600 students from 25 different countries (and every continent apart from Antarctica!) competed in a variety of categories and age groups.

The main part of the competition took place on Saturday 27 June 2020, over a 24-hour period, with the new challenge released online at midnight on the Friday night. Our girls spent a large part of the day developing their programs and adapting them to the new challenge to get the highest score possible, with the last program being submitted at shortly before 10.00pm!

The girls were competing as individuals rather than as a team but, in true St. Mary’s spirit, this didn’t stop them from encouraging and supporting each other via Microsoft Teams throughout the day.

We are delighted to report that four of the girls, Anna T., Sissi H., Tuppence J.-K. and Tess F., were named as ‘Finalists’, in recognition of their exceptional performances, with scores well in excess of 1000 points amassed during a six-minute match!

As the highest scoring UK entrant, Anna T. then competed in a virtual match against the highest scoring entrant from Iran. After a tense match, her robot emerged victorious with 1060 points to her opponent’s 920! This meant that she finished in 3rd Place in the ‘iCool Challenge 2020 CoSpace Rescue U12 Category’. Many congratulations to her on this incredible achievement in an international-level competition!

My Shape Dinosaur - Reception class

During Lockdown, our Reception girls were challenged to be creative and design their own dinosaur by clicking and dragging to combine geometric shapes. In the following lesson, they created a ‘world’ in which their dinosaur could live. Emily B. showed fantastic creativity and attention to detail with both tasks.

‘Day and Night’

After just three online Computer Science lessons during Lockdown, this project was coded at home using the ‘Scratch Jr’ app.  Year 2 had never used the app before but, despite this, Lorelei M. created an animation with a real sense of narrative featuring multiple ‘characters’.  She used code which included direction and speed controls, multiple repeat loops, wait commands, speech bubbles, appear and disappear commands, simultaneous actions and a scene change command. 

‘Hide and Seek Game’

During Lockdown, our Year 3 girls were introduced to the full version of ‘Scratch’ and coded a series of simple computer games. Anoushka’s game featured a character that appeared and disappeared at random intervals and in random screen positions. The player had to try to click on the character using the mouse in order to earn points. She was able to use forever and conditional loops, random numbers, four quadrant x and y coordinates to specify screen positions, sound effects, broadcast and receive messages and a variable to keep track of the score and provide an on-screen scoreboard.

‘Dice Project’

In her second online Computer Science lesson during Lockdown, Cecily V-H.used a ‘micro:bit’ simulator to code a random number generator to produce an effect similar to rolling a dice. She had never used a ‘micro:bit’ before, but was independently able to sequence display commands to control the LED display, random numbers, wait commands and a conditional statement, as well as adding additional refinements such as varying the brightness of the LEDs at different stages of the algorithm.

Well done to all of the girls for demonstrating so many HPL characteristics whilst coming to grips with the difficulties of online Computer Science lessons. 

These included creativity, resilience, perseverance (and, of course, enthusiasm), as well as the ability to think analytically and make connections. Also, huge congratulations to many of the girls for their successes in competing remotely against other students from all over this country and the wider world, and for their determination not to let a global pandemic prevent them from competing at both national and international level!
2020/2021 has undoubtedly been the most challenging period of my teaching career and the pandemic has meant huge changes to the way that Computer Science could be delivered at the Junior School.

I am so proud of the way that the girls (and their parents!) coped with online home learning, using such a variety of devices and software (not just in Computer Science, but across the whole curriculum). Their constant enthusiasm, good humour and willingness to adapt to such challenging circumstances, made a very difficult situation much more enjoyable and productive for all concerned. The true St. Mary’s spirit has never been more in evidence!

We are very much looking forward to being able to resume our face-to-face competitions and other Computer Science and STEM-related visits, as soon as restrictions allow. I am sure that the skills that the girls have learnt during this period of lockdowns, restrictions and online home learning will stand them in very good stead once we are able once again to give them the full range of opportunities that are normally embedded into the Junior School Computer Science curriculum.

Mr Severy

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