Triumph at national coding and robotics competitions for St Mary’s Cambridge Junior girls

Year 5 and Year 6 pupils from St Mary’s School, Cambridge have successfully coded their way to the 2017 RoboCup Championships UK Final. The Year 6 final – the prestigious RoboCupJunior UK National CoSpace Championships – took place on Monday 12 June, and a St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge team finished in fourth place out of 58 national teams. The Year 5 final – the inaugural RoboCupJunior Line Tracking Primary Championship – took place on Tuesday 13 June, and a St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge team finished in third place out of 30 national teams.
Both competitions are organised by BT Education, hosted at the BT Headquarters in Martlesham Heath, and kicked off in October 2016, with 14 of the school’s Year 6 pupils attending a CoSpace Virtual Robotics Taster Day, and 15 Year 5 pupils attending a Crumble Robot Taster Day. The format of the Taster Days consisted of pupils taking part in a series of practical workshops, such as programming a robot to compete against another robot to collect coloured objects (Year 6), or programming robots to track around a complex circuit (Year 5), followed by a competition to determine which teams would progress through to the next round. The St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge Year 5 pupils finished fifth in this stage of the competition, out of 27 competing teams from across East Anglia, to secure their place in the Grand Final in June, and the Year 6 pupils also finished fifth in this stage, out of 75 participating teams from the region, to progress through to the second of the three stages of the competitions, which took place in January 2017.

In the second round of the Year 6 competition pupils attended the CoSpace Virtual Robotics Improvers’ Day, at which they used text-based coding to program an on-screen robot and, following a workshop session in the morning, during which the girls learnt the basics of the C++ programming language, the two teams had two hours to program their robots to compete against another team’s robot and collect as many coloured objects as possible. The St Mary’s School, Cambridge Year 6 teams finished in second and third places overall – out of 70 contesting teams – missing out on first place by just 20 points, but doing enough to secure their place in the UK Final.

At the Year 6 UK Final on 12 June seven St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge teams competed in three rounds, within a league system which saw one team compete in the play-off to finish in fourth place. The girls also had to undertake a technical interview and an unseen technical challenge. The other six teams all finished in the top half of the table among 58 teams, and received a number of awards between them, including: the ‘Innovative Programming Award’, for their explanation of their code and its functionality during the Technical Interview, with a second team being highly commended in the same category; and the group was awarded the ‘Best Poster Presentation Award’, for the visual explanation of the learning journey undertaken throughout the competition from October to June and the girls’ strategies for success and ambitions for the future.

Six teams participated in the Year 5 Grand Final – the inaugural RoboCupJunior Line Tracking Primary Championship on 13 June – which involved programming ‘CrumbleBot’ physical robots to follow a line along a series of different routes as quickly as possible. Successfully navigating the routes required a mixture of precision and speed, within a strict 10 minute time slot for programming, testing and completing the time trial on each track. Each team competed in time trials on 10 different tracks, took part in a ‘Pursuit Knockout Competition’, and competed in a technical interview. One of the Year 5 teams was awarded a glass trophy in recognition of finishing in third place overall, with all of the St Mary’s School, Cambridge teams finishing in the top 20. One team finished in first place in the Kart Track challenge, by achieving the fastest time, and another in third place in the Pursuit Knockout Competition. One of the school’s teams also achieved the ‘Best Programming Award’ and another was highly commended in the ‘Best Poster Presentation Award’ category.

Mr Matthew O’Reilly, Head of Juniors at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said: “Congratulations to all of our Year 5 and Year 6 pupils who took part in what are not only exciting competitions, but excellent opportunities to gain experience of coding and programming to solve problems under pressure. The more young people who are able to have this sort of experience the better. I am grateful to Mr Andrew Severy, our Computer Science co-ordinator, who joined us in September 2016, for entering our pupils into a competition such as this for the first time this year, and we look forward to returning next year and building on this year’s success.”

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