St Mary’s becomes a finalist for STEM Initiative of the Year

St Mary’s becomes a finalist for STEM Initiative of the Year

19 November 2020

The awards represent an array of talent from across the Cambridge region in fields from biotech to cleantech, AI to medtech. The judging panel for the awards features independent experts across a range of fields and sectors, from business leaders to specialists. Winners would normally be revealed at an autumn ceremony, but the pandemic means that has been delayed until the new year at a date to be confirmed. St Mary’s is thrilled to have become a finalist for this award for the second year running, in recognition of the fantastic work undertaken by the school to encourage girls across the Cambridge community to consider a career in STEM.

The entry by St Mary’s Junior School focused on our STEM Outreach Day which took place on 31 January 2020, during which we welcomed twenty-two Year 5 girls from Fulbourn Primary School to participate in a STEM Day alongside our own Year 5 girls. The theme of the day was ‘Space Exploration’ and consisted of two extended workshop sessions to develop STEM and Computer Science skills. These sessions were led by our Year 5 Class Teachers, Mr Tom Ashford and Miss Eleanor Lowe, and our Computer Science Coordinator, 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.

Mr Andrew Severy, Computer Science Coordinator at St Mary’s Junior School commented: “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.”

Mr Matthew O’Reilly, Head of St Mary’s Junior School, added: “We are thrilled to have become a finalist for STEM Initiative of the Year for the second year in a row! It is vital that we embed skills such as coding, problem-solving and working as a team, into our curriculum, so we can prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future.”

Becoming a finalist is one of many accolades the school has gained in recent years for excellence in Computer Science and STEM. As strong advocates for women and girls in STEM, St Mary’s pupils enjoyed hearing from experts in medical and business fields in their recent Festival of Ideas, which gave pupils an insight into a range of careers. Pupils have had great success at a national and international level in robotics – their Year 5 and 6 teams have regularly become national RoboCupJunior champions in recent years, and a group of Year 6 girls reached the European RoboCupJunior quarter finals in Hannover in 2019!

From age 4 up, St Mary’s offers a ground-breaking approach to STEM, which engages girls in the exciting possibilities that science, technology, engineering and mathematics open up for their future.

This includes specialist-taught Computer Science lessons, which enable girls to engage in a wide range of coding challenges and skills, alongside more traditional ICT learning. Curriculum highlights include:

• Reception: sequences of instructions using BeeBots to navigate specific routes.

• Years 1 and 2: creating animations and on-screen events using Scratch Junior.

• Years 3 and 4: designing simple computer games using Scratch, plus Crumble programming using our Crumble ‘Playground’ equipment, including LEDs, switches, buzzers, light and touch sensors and motors.

• Years 5 and 6: exploring flowchart programming and text-based coding using LOGO, HTML and Python, using real-world applications.

The Senior School also hosts a range of outreach programmes, from science to art. Last year we hosted a group budding scientists in Year 4 and 5 from local schools for our science outreach programme led by Dr Cristina Alves Martins, Head of Chemistry at St Mary’s. In a series of 1.5 hour sessions, participants carried out experiments linked to real-world contexts and explored how chemistry opens up exciting career paths. They also built skills in team-work, planning, data analysis, conclusion writing and presentation skills.

Mrs Tessa Shercliff, STEM Coordinator at St Mary’s Junior School, said: “I believe that an integrated, cross-curricular approach to STEM teaching, either as part of the curriculum, or in planning an outreach activity such as this, is key. Students learn best through practical activities drawing on multiple disciplines and related to real-life problems.”

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