May 2015

TCS helps school children get creative at the Big Bang Fair

TCS was the corporate sponsor of The Big Bang Fair at Birmingham's NEC, the UK's leading youth celebration of science and technology, for the second year running

In the campaign to 'make coding cool', Flappy Birds and Frozen-themed computer challenges and a Lego robot did no harm at all to the pulling power of this year's TCS stand at The Big Bang Fair.

TCS helps school children get creative at the Big Bang Fair
TCS volunteers welcomed hundreds of young visitors keen to try their hand at a mix of logical problem solving and coding for maximum effect. Both the challenges - one built around off-the-shelf products and the other, designed and created by a team of TCS graduates - could be tackled at different levels of difficulty. That meant six to 16 year olds were queuing over the four-day event to compete.

Erected in the Big Bang’s ‘Think Digital’ zone, alongside exhibition supporters like the BBC, BAFTA and GCHQ, the TCS stand offered twin navigation games, based on Scratch programming and using the ridiculously popular Flappy Birds and characters from Frozen to lure young problem solvers.

It was “basic coding, but more about logic – a creative way to understand how coding works, as players advance through the different levels”, said Amit Khemnani, a business analyst with Jaguar Land Rover and a previous TCS volunteer through an IT careers event in India.

But the bespoke challenge was the show-stopper. A Lego robot tank had to be programmed not only to negotiate a colourful maze and land on a target spot, but then to smash its frontend hammer with enough force to send a virtual ‘high striker’ as high as possible, anywhere from nought to ten.

Young teens and under were given varying degrees of help to code the optimum route and strength values, then stand back and wait to learn their scores – a modest five earning electronic applause and a perfect ten, bells and virtual fireworks.

First-year graduate Humera Tariq, a business intelligence systems engineer with British Airways, designed the twin-screen video interface. “The animation was created in Photoshop and force readings are sent from the robot via Bluetooth, so that players’ results display instantly on the video wall,” she explained.

Some TCS veterans of last year’s Big Bang Fair were back at the NEC for a second round of volunteering, including Dan Gregory, originator of the 2014 ‘exploding melon’ game, and BA account support engineer Adam Flores. In the academic year that saw coding introduced into the primary and secondary school curriculum, this year’s TCS Big Bang challenges had given visitors “a lot more to think about”, Adam said.

The fair’s 150 or more attractions - including human-spinning gyroscopes (BAE Systems), a ‘Heavy Metal Mayhem’ stage show about marine biology and a guest appearance by the Daleks – was designed to be fun, but with a serious message. Led by Engineering UK, Big Bang aims to capture the imaginations of young people with hands-on experience of science and technology, as well as interaction with people already working in those fields.

With upwards of 75,000 visitors, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Science Minister Greg Clarke, this year’s event again set out to create excitement around the range of careers open to students with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) qualifications. The Fair was a natural fit with TCS’ own IT Futures programme of youth engagement, whose target is to involve 10,000 young people a year, challenging and inspiring school and university students with the creative possibilities of technology.

The Big Bang Fair was a great launch pad for the TechFutures Teachers: Careers Resources Pack, TCS’ brand new careers resource for schools.

Meanwhile, what did this year’s young visitors to the TCS Big Bang stand make of it all? Twelve year old Ethan from Cannock – whose coding team of three scored a perfect ten with the robot – had this observation: “If the girls knew it was more about maths than robots, they might be more keen to try…the girls in our class are better at maths anyway.”

Daizjhan (11), from Birmingham, was another high scorer: “We’ve never programmed robots at school, but we worked it out. Now I could show them all how.”

Sofia Michalopoulou, TCS Corporate Sustainability Executive, was excited by the response to this year’s effort. “It was terrific to see more and more TCS-ers lining up to volunteer at the fair. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!”