Tag Archives: schools

Blue Fusion, the 2009 edition

One of the first Hursley-related things I wrote about here and on the eightbar blog back in 2006 was how much I enjoy helping with our annual schools event for National Science and Engineering Week in the UK – Blue Fusion (the event website has gone AWOL at the moment but here’s a link to the press release).

This year was no exception, and referring back to my old blog entries it turns out that this is now the fifth year that I’ve been a volunteer. Unfortunately I only had room in my schedule to spend one day helping this time around, so I chose to host a school for the day rather than spending all day on a single activity (that way, I got to see all of the different things we had on offer).

So, yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting six intelligent and polite students from Malvern St James School and their teachers – they had travelled a fair distance to come to the event, but despite the early start I think they did really well.

I won’t go into too much detail and spoil the fun for people who might read this but have not yet taken part in this week’s event, but I think we had some great activities on offer. I twittered our way through a few of them. My own personal favourite was a remote surgery activity. You can’t see much in this image (it was a dark room) but the students basically had a “body” inside a box with some remote cameras to guide their hands around and had to identify organs and foreign objects.

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There was also some interesting application of visual technology / tangible interfaces – a genetics exercise using LEGO bricks and a camera which identified gene strands, and an energy planning exercise which used Reactivision-style markers to identify where power stations had been placed on a map (sort of similar to what we built in SLorpedo at Hackday a couple of years ago). We also had some logic puzzles to solve, built a, err… “typhoon-proof” (ahem) tower, simulated a computer processor, and commanded a colony of ants in a battle for survival against the other school teams.

Things I learned

  1. Facebook (not Bebo) is now where it’s at.
  2. If a tornado is coming, get out of the way or into a safe room.
  3. Girls are much better than boys at listening to multiple streams of conversation (actually I think I worked this out a long time ago!).

A now, some notes just for my team…

Here are links to a few of the other things we talked about during the day:

And most importantly, here’s the evidence that we started off in first place 🙂 and I think you were an awesome team throughout. Well done, it was brilliant spending the day with you.

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Robots video

I previously blogged about our visit to a primary school in Maidenhead last week. The local paper took a video which can now be viewed online.

Mindstorms

A break from the norm today – a small group of IBMers went to an infant school in Berkshire to play around with robots!

I’ve written before about my enjoyment of working with schools and helping children to learn about technology. I do make an effort to get involved in these kind of opportunities when possible. I’m a regular helper at IBM’s annual Blue Fusion event in the Hursley lab, but this one was a little different. For one thing it was much smaller… just four of us. We were out on the school site, rather than having the children come to us. Finally, it was a significantly different age group to the ones I’m more used to dealing with – these youngsters were only 6 years old, and I’ve only ever worked with teenagers in the past.

The day was really successful. We were armed with several boxes of LEGO Mindstorms robot kits. We kicked off by talking about ASIMO and how robots work, the fact that they need bodies and brains and so on. After that the children worked in groups of 3 or 4 to build a basic wheeled robot base, making it as funky as possible with tubes and anything else they wanted to add, and then we did some simple programming. It was the first time I’d used the Mindstorms system and I have to say it’s absolutely superb – easy to use and with a lot of potential to do far more advanced stuff too.

A hectic day and challenging to keep children of this age group on track, but I was very excited to see the range of their imaginations and how they were able to work together. I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did – one child asked me “do you like working with computers?” and it made me realise that one of the things I do love about my job is the human side of it, as well as having the occasional opportunity to get out there and introduce technology to youngsters.