Gillian Greig, maths teacher at The Priory School in Hitchin, tells us how Astro Pi inspired her pupils to get coding:
“I came across the Astro Pi competition on Twitter and our school was extremely excited to get our students involved! The students didn’t have any coding experience and neither did I, so we weren’t sure how it would turn out. However, if we could engage at least one of them in coding we would have achieved something.
Initially, I had a small group of students brainstorming some ideas that were sent away to the first stage of the competition. This was met with great success and two of our Year 9 students, Daisy Doyle and Megan Reed, won a full Raspberry Pi kit with an Astro Pi Sense HAT.
The girls’ achievement spread around the school and I began to get more and more students enquiring about the competition. It was fantastic to see so many students wanting to get involved but I was worried that I was in over my head! Fortunately, I heard that Airbus were offering support to schools taking part in the competition, so I made contact with their STEM Coordinator to ask if they could help us out. They kindly agreed to send along a member of staff to provide support in coding best practices, general coding knowledge, and to give our students an insight into astronauts’ daily life and how their ‘game’ would help them.
With their support, I could now give more students the opportunity to get involved. I put a sign-up sheet on my classroom door; within 48 hours it was full and we had 16 students wanting to get involved!
The girls who won the initial stage of the competition quickly got into the swing of coding and began taking their Raspberry Pi home at weekends to do more work on their own. They used Python to code their Sense HAT, and created a memory game that they wanted to use to see if such games could increase someone’s reaction time. In the case of astronauts, they would see if their reaction times could be improved or just maintained, as the effects of microgravity on the body could decrease them.
After all of the hard work that they put into their project, the students asked if they could take it along to the Big Bang Fair to show others what they had achieved. Although they ended up not winning the Astro Pi competition itself, they won two prizes at the Big Bang Fair – the Junior Engineering Prize and the Best Use of Mathematics in a Project. From this Megan and Daisy received £400 to help further their project, which has been nominated to compete at the National Science and Engineering Competition in March 2016. Furthermore, they have said that they would like to use some of this money to buy some more equipment for our school to allow us to make our coding club a regular feature! We could not be more proud of them and all of the students that got involved, and would like to thank the people at Raspberry Pi and Airbus for making this experience possible.”