Girls improve coding skills in ‘mission to Mars’ STEM workshop

Girls improve coding skills in ‘mission to Mars’ STEM workshop

21 February 2020

On 31 January, St Mary’s School, Cambridge welcomed twenty-two Year 5 girls from Fulbourn Primary School to the school, to participate in a STEM Outreach Day alongside their own Year 5 girls. The theme of the day was ‘Space Exploration’ and consisted of two extended workshop sessions to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and Computer Science skills. These sessions were led by St Mary’s Year 5 teachers, Mr. Tom Ashford and Miss Eleanor Lowe, and St Mary’s Computer Science Co-ordinator, Mr. Andrew Severy.

In the Computer Science workshop, the girls worked in inter-school teams to program CrumbleBot robots to explore the surface of Mars as part of an unmanned space exploration. They were given a three-part mission and had to develop the computer code required to allow their CrumbleBot to: follow the route marked out by a previous mission in order to find the cave system; explore the cave system and find the way out again; return to the spacecraft by following a searchlight beam. Their code needed to work completely automatically, as they couldn’t communicate with the CrumbleBot once it had left the spacecraft. In order to achieve this they had to understand and use monochrome, ultrasonic and light sensors; analogue and digital signals; variables; conditional statements; and nested loops.

In the STEM workshop, the girls focused upon the return journey from Mars to Earth. They had to construct a catapult mechanism to launch the unmanned space capsule back into space on the correct trajectory, and a parachute to allow a controlled landing back on Earth. Once completed, these had to be thoroughly tested and improved to try to land the capsule consistently on target. As well as developing their practical construction skills, this required an understanding of forces including gravity and air resistance, as well as the relationship between kinetic and potential energy.

Andrew Severy, Computer Science Co-ordinator at St Mary’s Junior School, said: “The girls from both schools worked incredibly hard and demonstrated high levels of perseverance, teamwork and enthusiasm. We hope that they have been inspired by exploring some of the real world applications of STEM subjects and can see their own potential for a possible future career in a STEM-related industry.”

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