Up, up and away with Raspberry Pi

Queen Margaret’s girls embrace technology through a balloon club powered by the single-board computer

Girls at Queen Margaret’s are breaking down tiresome stereotypes and truly embracing technology to increase their experience of the all-important STEM subjects. The independent all-girls school near York already uses Raspberry Pi computers as an integral part of its computer science curriculum and has increasingly been able to offer a number of innovative extracurricular projects which use the Raspberry Pi technology for students to get involved in.

After completing Raspberry Pi’s Picademy training for educators, Jon Witts, Director of Digital Strategy, and Dave Grainger, Head of Physics at Queen Margaret’s, were inspired to share some of their experiences with girls at the school. 

As a result, they got to work and set up a high altitude ballooning club called QMSkyPi which involved a team of girls, aged 13–18, sending a teddy into the stratosphere using a balloon powered by a Raspberry Pi computer. On what could not have been a worse day for launching due to very strong winds, the girls chased the balloon to its predicted burst and landing points in the Yorkshire Dales. ‘Margaret’ the bear and her payload were eventually located having made it an incredible 27km into the stratosphere. Using the Raspberry Pi technology the girls were able to download telemetry data and images from the launch.

Inspired by the success of QMSkyPi, a team of girls then participated in Pi Wars which entailed building a Raspberry Pi-powered robot. The robot had to be programmed to tackle a series of autonomous challenges, such as a straight line speed test, as well as remote control challenges which included navigating an obstacle course and duelling with an opponent robot. Eighteen schools were involved in the competition and the Queen Margaret’s team came in fifth place.

Most recently, three Queen Margaret’s girls really brought a creative flair to their computer programming when they participated in the national Raspberry Pi Pioneers project. The girls, who made up Team Star, designed and developed their very own Disco Pen. Although it looked like an inconspicuous whiteboard marker, the Disco Pen was fitted with a light sensor so that whenever its cap was removed it played drum’n’bass music and two LED lights flashed. Their product was considered so successful that Team Star received a judges’ commendation. As a reward for their commendation, during the recent summer holidays the three girls were invited to attend a Pioneers Summer Camp held at Google Headquarters in London. The girls spent the day building a racing buggy and a Siri box, proving that these extracurricular activities are enabling the girls to benefit from some unique experiences.

The computer science projects allow the girls at Queen Margaret’s to have a go at coding as well as electronics and ultimately make the subject fun and enriching. Queen Margaret’s Head, Jessica Miles, said, “We encourage a freedom from the sort of stereotyping still so prevalent in the real world which limits both boys’ and girls’ aspirations. The girls never hear anyone suggesting that there are areas of life that aren’t for women.” 

Jon Witts added, “There is a rich history of female pioneers in STEM subjects and this is something we celebrate here at QM. The Raspberry Pi projects are opening up ideas as a possibility so the girls can create things we’ve never even dreamt of.”  

W: queenmargarets.com 

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