By Jeremy Chaplin, chair of governors at Brooke Primary School.
I first heard about the BLOODHOUND Project and the Race for The Line competition at the BETT Education and Technology show in January 2016. At this time, only secondary schools could enter Race for the Line, so it wasn’t something we could participate in. Nevertheless, I ordered a BBC micro:bit as soon as I could, and quickly realised how simple and effective it would be for introducing pupils to coding. More importantly, it could inspire them to make things and see, touch and engage with technology, rather than just using a screen.
I decided to run a pilot scheme with the Key Stage 2 pupils at Brooke Primary School, and set up our first Computer Club, offering a free micro:bit to pupils that signed up. The course was an amazing success: we made games, music, Christmas ornaments, step counters and even robots!
As I researched more micro:bit based activities, I came back to the BLOODHOUND Project and Race For the Line competition, and realised micro:bits were being used to help track and measure some key metrics of the cars’ performances. In addition, the competition was now open to primary schools, so I signed us up.
Back to BETT
At this year’s BETT show, we met the BLOODHOUND Team, discussed the programme in more detail, and even made our own cars and raced them. We had an amazing time at the show, but the BLOODHOUND experience was the highlight for us – and winning the race and a micro:bit was the icing on the cake. We also left with some good advice on what tool our primary school pupils could use to safely shape and build their cars.
The pupils were very excited about the prospect of the competition and started by producing some ideas on paper, after which I picked up our kits from our hub. The lessons were a tremendous success and we ended up with seven cars.
We wanted to test our cars prior to the official race day at our hub. Fortunately, one of the BLOODHOUND Ambassadors, Peter Harrison, was very keen to help. Peter borrowed one of the official air-launcher compressors and a pump, and prepared an elaborate launch setup for our next computer club session. Meanwhile, I constructed a ‘speed gate’ using some infrared sensors and a micro:bit. (You can find detailed build instructions on our website at http://www.brooke.norfolk.sch.uk/microbit-speed-gate/)
A few weeks later all our pupils and volunteers set off to race our rocket cars against other schools at Old Buckenham High School. Peter kept us occupied on the coach with a talk and handouts on the history of the BLOODHOUND programme, and handed out BLOODHOUND Top Trumps for the pupils to play.
When we arrived, our hub host, Kevin Sait, spent time explaining how the BBC micro:bit would be used to measure the acceleration of each rocket car and how it connected via Bluetooth to transmit the data to a smartphone or tablet. I had prepared our micro:bit and smartphone setup so that we would be able to capture the data from our cars and upload it to the Dendrite site along with our results.
The Army volunteers tested the track and timing gates, and after watching another school run their cars, it was time to get our cars loaded onto the wires. Despite a few misfiring rockets and some challenges with the timing gates, we successfully set off all seven of our rocket cars. The pupils really enjoyed getting involved and being able to perform the countdown before pressing the launch button to ignite the rockets!
You can watch a video of our launches taken by Peter.
Inspired by BLOODHOUND
We returned to the school with our data captured on our smartphone and our timings and videos. All of the cars achieved some great speeds, and at the time of writing our fastest team, Flaming Arrow, were in eighth place on the national leader board!
We’re looking forward to hearing if we’ve made it through to the regional final, but even if we don’t, we really enjoyed the experience and are considering the possibility of running our own hub next year too. The pupils have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it remains one of the most engaging and broad-ranging STEM/computing lessons that we’ve ever had!
A big thank you to Peter, the BLOODHOUND team and the volunteers who helped make it all happen.
Update from Peter Harrison
Three teams from the school made it through to the Regional Finals at RAF Honington at the end of April. Only one team – ‘Flaming Arrow’ – was able to compete on the day. They achieved a very creditable third place in the ‘Primary School’ class, so just missed out on qualifying for the National Finals.
I accompanied the team on the day and I know they worked hard to progress to the next round. Their experience has been invaluable and I am sure that we will see Brooke Primary School entering future Race for the Line challenges.