A return to St Peter's school

Author: Alistair Grant
Posted: 28 May 2014 | 11:55

About a year ago, we visited St Peter's with our original set of outreach activities. Now in a return to the school we brought along our new and updated activities. The school invited us back to talk to their primary 4 and 5 classes this year, so Jason, Eilidh, Iain and myself went along and installed ourselves in their music classroom.

The activities this year were our updated hardware boards and information, colour ball sort, the dinosaur-racing simulation and the newest activity being developed by Eilidh, numbered balls and sorting algorithms. 

Eilidh has developed an activity centred around comparison sorts and searches using numbered balls, which introduces some new challenges beyond those presented in the colour ball sorting. For further information, see her blog entry on Sorting Algorithms for 9-year-olds. This activity has gone over well and hopefully will see more use in future events.

Over the course of a morning, we talked to 4 classes (probably about 80-90 pupils), and the questions and enthusiasm shown were a credit to the school. Unfortunately, due to time constraints everyone did not get to do everything but I think most of the pupils got a good impression of what we were talking about and why it is useful.

Jason explained how the hardware for supercomputers works with the aid of the blades and components we had brought along. This can sometimes be a challenging activity to manage as the boards are quite static and really rely on questions being asked, which the pupils did.

Iain ran the dinosaur racer, a popular activity at the science festivals and other schools. As in previous reports, this activity is a good starting point to show how simluation works and how it can be adapted for different problems. This time we ran the simulator interface inside a virtual machine, a change from previous events. This proved to work for the most part although some interesting behaviour with the hard disk and the virtual machine itself did mean that Iain at one point had to cope with a non-functioning demonstration.

I ran the coloured-ball sorting, which apart from introducing some of the ideas in parallelism has become quite a competitive activity for groups who try to beat each other's scores for sorting the balls in a minute. While this is a fun aspect, the ideas that people come up with to speed it up are interesting in themselves and getting people to realise problems with how to do it is a worthwhile exercise.

The morning went well overall and has given us plenty to think about how to improve and expand our range of activities, including small tweaks to existing ones and entirely new ones.

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