Education Outreach in The Scilly Isles - Software Cornwall

Isles of Scilly Visit to the Five Islands Schools

Software Cornwall was asked to join a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) visit organised by Mayes Creative to the schools on the Isles of Scilly this May. The theme was the history of communication in west Cornwall. With Porthcurno being a hub for telegraphic communications for the Empire and Marconi sent the first transatlantic radio signal from the Lizard, a project around sending messages by morse code around the schools was born.

Five Islands School, St Marys.St Agnes Primary School

The Five Islands School on the Isles of Scilly has the main secondary school on St Mary’s Island together with its primary. The islands of St Agnes, St Martins and Tresco have a primary school on eac. Every Friday all the students of the outlying schools travel over to St Marys for the day to learn together. The plan was to get the pupils to send by morse code poems written by another part of the project to each other from one island to the next.

The kit was to be donated to the schools to carry on using or reusing after the project visit was over. So to keep it simple to use it was based around buttons, a buzzer, some LED, a Raspberry Pi Zero and the Internet of Things.

Utilising the local school WiFi the Raspberry Pi would log into an Adafruit.IO account in the USA. One button would code a ‘dot’, another button a ‘dash’ to build the message letters. To send each letter a third button would publish the morse letter to Adafruit in the USA where it would then be sent back across the Atlantic to the subscribers, the Raspberry Pi on the Isles of Scilly waiting to receive. The buzzer would sound dots and dashes and the LED would flash the message’s receipt.

Digital Champions

Year 9 & 10 students studying Computer Science on St Marys were given the opportunity to spend some time building their knowledge of coding whilst Software Cornwall were on the islands. PiTop computers were taken over and a rather intense series of sessions were given to the students to get them up to speed on the programming utilised in the morse code program. They also had the chance to try out more activities on the Raspberry Pi as well and then accompanied Software Cornwall and Creative Mayes team to St Agnes to meet the pupils on the other islands.

St Agnes and St Martins Primary Schools

On what has to be described as an idyllic day the teams crossed over to St Agnes to visit the school. The pupils of St Martins had also travelled over for the day.

The artist and poet Keith Sparrow worked with the pupils first developing their poem around their favourite things about their islands. The red eyed lobster man that follows you at night was news to us!

With the poem written the digital champions assisted pairs of the pupils in translating lines of the poem into morse code. We then had them transmitting the code across the school between each other via the United States.

Transcribing poem into Morse code.Seeing the messages come in.

The children very quickly got the hang of it and were soon morse coding their lines of poem and names back and forth across the school and the Atlantic. The school teachers will help the pupils to build the Raspberry Pi, buttons and buzzers into a more permanent, interactive display. The opportunity will then be available for the students to share messages across the water to their friends whenever they like.

The day ended after a quick dash back across to St Marys and the main school to take the weekly staff development meeting. This meant demonstrating how today students can get their hands on some great technology and develop skills not available to them on normal computers and tablets. The teachers were let loose on some equipment and getting them to flash LED by code for the first time and write messages across a Raspberry Pi SenseHat. We learnt the next morning that some had gone home and looked into ordering their own. 

The following day included a careers assembly for the Year 7 and 8 pupils on St Marys. This highlighted to them the possibilities in the software industry to them in Cornwall. Where it is going, how to get there from school work and how to develop their own learning too.

Workshop sessions followed for Year 6s using Scratch and the digital champions returned for even more opportunities to develop their Python skills. They also were the first to be given news about the Open Tech Challenge from Software Cornwall, Agile on the Beach and Cornwall Council. Though they may be in a remote location they can still become part of the new initiative.

Final Thoughts

The three day trip enabled Software Cornwall to engage with the pupils of the primary and secondary schools on the islands. It created links with the teachers and we formed useful relationships that will develop. Hopefully we shall be back over there in October for the Careers Fair and show the pupils and staff that the technology industry has no barriers of engagement or participation.