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STEM: Inventing Junior School Computer Science & Coding

STEM: Inventing Junior School Computer Science & Coding

It has been another very busy and exciting year for Computer Science at the Junior School with many trips, competitions and special events taking place, in addition to the weekly specialist-taught Computer Science lessons. 

Representing the UK for Robotics

As last year’s Magnolian went to print, I announced the sensational news that St Mary’s Junior School had been selected to represent the United Kingdom at the prestigious ‘RoboCupJunior Euro 2019 Robotics Championships in Hannover, Germany in June 2019. However, this turned out to be an even more amazing experience than we had bargained for! 

Our team of four Year 6 girls were preparing to fly out to Hannover on 20 June 2019 for three days of international level competition in the Primary Rescue Simulation League when, less than 24 hours before departure, we were informed that they would have to compete in the Open Rescue Simulation League instead. This decision was made by the championship organisers because our girls were the only Primary age group team to enter, from the 18 eligible countries across Europe. They also turned out to be the only all-girl team, with just one other girl competing in the entire Rescue Simulation League. 

The Open Rescue Simulation League is for students aged 14-18, has different rules and is much more complex, but despite this our 11-year-old girls rose to the challenge and were determined to compete with the older teams on equal terms.

After a very intense programming session, they managed to get to grips with the new requirements and were delighted to win their first match against a team of 17-year-olds from Italy on 21 June. 

Quarter Final experience

In very quick succession, they then played against teams from Portugal and Croatia. Each of these was a narrow defeat, but their individual match scores more than doubled during the course of this round. Their results were good enough to enable them to take part in a knockout match against another Italian team for a place in the Quarter Finals. We have since learnt that this team, which consisted of four 17-year-old boys, were last year's European Open Rescue Simulation Champions.

The following day our girls won this match by 920 points to 615 points, knocking the Italian team out of the championships and securing a place for themselves in the Quarter Finals. 

Shortly after lunch, the Quarter Finals began, and despite a valiant effort and a new personal best match score of 980 points, our team lost their match to a very strong Russian team of 18 year old boys, who were the overall highest scorers in the competition at that stage and went on to be crowned European Champions.

After a series of very intense playoff matches to decide the 5th to 8th places (in one of which we were defeated in the last two seconds having been in the lead all the way through) we were awarded 8th place overall. 

Determined competitors

Our girls then showed real determination and perseverance when they were teamed up with a German team and a Portuguese team to form a Super Team for a separate competition. Following a collaborative programming session in which three different languages were being spoken, a series of playoff matches took place. The Super Team featuring our girls was awarded 2nd place.

Their contribution to this success had clearly won them the respect of their much older new teammates. 

A true indication of their acceptance into the exclusive Rescue Simulation European Community came with a very unexpected invitation to participate in a monthly 'virtual' tournament, which uses email and Skype conference calling to enable teams to compete against each other across the Internet from their own countries. 

Robocup competition Year 6Year 6 National RoboCup Champions

Just two days later, back in the UK, 15 of our Year 6 girls competed in the RoboCupJunior UK National Primary Rescue Simulation Finals

After a very full day, including an unseen Technical Challenge, Technical Interviews, Poster Presentations and a nerve-wracking series of competition rounds, we were delighted to discover that two of our teams would be competing against each other in the Grand Final.

After a very tense match to decide the final positions, our team ‘E&E’ were crowned as UK National Primary Rescue Simulation Champions with ‘Tigers’ finishing in a very close 2nd place.   

During the closing ceremony, these two teams were awarded engraved cut glass trophies and certificates. Our teams were also awarded the Innovative Programming Award, the Best Technical Interview Award, Best Teamwork Award, the Endeavour Award, the Best Poster Award and also a Highly Commended Poster Award. 

year 5Year 5 UK Tracking Champions

Not to be outdone, the very next day fourteen of our Year 5 girls participated in the Line Tracking UK National Primary Finals. The girls had to program their CrumbleBot robots to follow a line around 12 separate and very varied courses, against the clock. There was also a ‘Pursuit’ Challenge, similar to Olympic velodrome cycling events. 

At the end of the day's competition, we were delighted that our 'Backspace' team were crowned as UK National Primary Line Tracking Champions, receiving an engraved cut glass trophy. Our 'Red Herrings' team were awarded 4th place overall, and we also received four Fastest Individual Track Awards and the Best Poster Award

A fitting end to an incredible week of coding!

HerStory exhibition lauch

The new academic year got off to a great start in September with a visit to the Centre for Computing History here in Cambridge. 

HerStory LaunchThe focus of the visit was a brand new exhibition entitled 'Computing His HerStory', which brought together information about the pioneering women whose contribution to the computing industry was undeniably crucial, as well as providing an insight into those working in computing and associated industries today. 

Our Year 6 girls helped to launch the exhibition on its very first day, and we were the only school to be approached to contribute directly to this new exhibition. The girls were asked, in advance of the visit, to submit their own ideas by email for what problems they would like to solve using technology in the future. These ideas were incorporated into a display as part of the exhibition. 

During the visit they participated in a series of practical activities, including learning how to program 30 year old BBC Micro computers using the text-based BBC Basic coding language. They also discussed the evolution of computers and their uses throughout history, exploring the development of computer games by gaining hands-on experience with a variety of historic computers and their original software, and creating their own Morse Code transmitters and receivers. 

All of the girls had a thoroughly enjoyable experience and now have a much greater understanding of the parts that they may be able to play in the next phase of developments within the computing and technology industries, by following in the footsteps of the pioneering women who have already been so instrumental in this field. 

RoboCupJunior Robotics Competition

In October, our Year 5 teams participated in the first stage of the annual RoboCupJunior Robotics Competition. This is a national competition hosted by BT Community Outreach at their headquarters in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk. RoboCup consists of several competition leagues for different age groups, starting from Year 5 and extending upwards to university students and beyond.   

Our Year 5 pupils took part in the ‘RoboCupJunior Line Tracking and Maze League’, which uses physical ‘CrumbleBot’ robots, and in preparation for this they participated in a ‘CrumbleBot Taster Day’. This involved a series of practical sessions focusing upon different aspects of coding, and culminated in a team competition during which the girls put their new programming skills to the test against teams from other schools.

The teams had to program their robot to compete against other teams’ robots to track around a circuit following a black line, as quickly as possible. The competition was contested by 34 teams from schools across East Anglia. 

Many congratulations to our Year 5 teams who finished in 1st and 2nd place overall and were praised by the organisers for their determination, perseverance, sporting attitude and enthusiasm. 

Year 6 TeamRoboCupJunior Rescue Simulation League

In November, it was the turn of our Year 6 teams to participate in the ‘RoboCupJunior Rescue Simulation League, which uses virtual on-screen robots as part of an earthquake rescue simulation. They took part in a ‘Taster Day’, which involved several practical workshops before a team competition. The teams had approximately an hour to program their robot to compete head-to-head against another team's robot and collect as many coloured objects as possible. 

All of the objects had to be deposited in the orange 'drop zone' before the end of the three-minute competition time and bonus points were also awarded for specific actions. The competition was contested by more than 50 teams, with each team playing three matches against teams from other schools. 

Many congratulations to our Year 6 team who finished in 6th place overall.  

Computational Thinking

Also in November, fifteen of our Year 4 girls participated in a ‘Computational Thinking Day' at BT Headquarters in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk. The focus of the day was problem solving and computational thinking processes, using a variety of software and hardware (including Scratch, BeeBots and LEGO WeDo). 

The day consisted of four, one-hour workshop sessions during which the girls learnt how to design, test and debug algorithms, deconstruct problems to make them easier to solve, make predictions, and use ‘repeat loops’ and ‘conditional statements’ to improve the efficiency of their code. 

The girls had an exciting and challenging day, demonstrating excellent levels of enthusiasm, perseverance and teamwork. They were complimented by the organisers for their ability to transfer their new skills seamlessly between different applications and scenarios.  

Specialist Computer Science Lessons

In their weekly Computer Science lessons (in addition to more ‘traditional’ ICT activities such as spreadsheets, databases and desktop publishing), all girls have gained experience of a wide range of different coding methods, using both physical and virtual (on-screen) equipment.

  • Our Reception girls have learnt about sequences of instructions and programmed BeeBots (small wheeled robots which look like bees!) to navigate around a specified route. They have also extended these skills using the BeeBot and BlueBot iPad apps.
  • In Years 1 and 2, the girls have been introduced to Scratch Junior – a piece of software that has a colourful and easy to use interface, which allows the girls to select sequences of command functions (without yet using code themselves) in order to create animations and trigger on-screen events.
  • Girls in Year 3 and 4 have used the full version of Scratch to develop simple computer games. They have also learnt the basics of Crumble programming with our Crumble ‘Playground’ equipment, which includes LEDs, switches, buzzers, light sensors, motors and touch sensors.
  • In Years 5 and 6 the girls have learnt about visual flowchart programming and begun to explore text-based coding using LOGO and Python as well as HTML. 

Read about our STEM outreach initiative

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