A group of schoolchildren from the UK will have their names put on a 1,000mph car that could break the land speed record next year.
The boys from Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, in Hertfordshire, won the chance to be part of history after they took top spot in one of the BBC micro:bit Model Rocket Car Competitions.
The event, run in partnership with Microsoft, challenged pupils at the independent school to craft the fastest rocket-powered model car from a block of foam. The vehicles were fired along a 50mph drag strip in the school’s playground, with a micro:bit – a small, programmable computer – on board to measure its speed.
The winning team’s car clocked up a speed of 42.85mph.
Eleven-year-old Ari was one of the boys who will have his name on the Bloodhound supersonic car (top) when it attempts to break the current land speed record of 763mph in South Africa next year.
He said he enjoyed the car challenge. “It’s a new and exciting thing, and it’s been great getting to grips with the micro:bit. I’ve been going to robotics lessons here and trying to get things to move; using sensors to stop them crashing. I love making things move, seeing something move at high speed and know you made it.
“In my previous school there was one IT teacher, but here we have an entire team of IT support.”
His friend Max, 12, said he was excited by the other prize – a trip to Microsoft’s research lab in Cambridge.
“The trip to Microsoft is really good. It’s an amazing prize to have and gives us something to aspire to.”
The school uses Microsoft products in a range of classes, and Nissim said that was helping pupils learn crucial digital skills they will need in the future.
“The IT department is very good here. In our first year they taught us Excel, Sway and OneNote. Receiving homework is so much easier now, our teacher puts it in our calendar and in OneNote.
“We’ve been learning to code, animate and make things on computers.”
Robert Epstein, UK Marketing Director for Windows at Microsoft, said helping youngsters learn digital skills was crucial as the world undergoes a fourth industrial revolution, where technology such as robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning become commonplace in offices and homes.
According to Cathy N Davidson, a professor at Duke University and co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, “65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet”.
Epstein told the pupils at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School it was important they “futureproofed themselves”.
“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in technology,” he said. “Digital transformation is everywhere. We are about to see a transformation from people sitting behind keyboards to people wearing HoloLens [Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset]. This is going to change industry, entertainment, everything.
“What are the future jobs you guys need to go and do? We will need great engineers and physicists for holograms, for example. The technology of tomorrow – AI, blockchain, the sharing economy, the internet of things, machine learning – is all driven by code. Code will be very important for the jobs that haven’t been invented yet; it will enable you all to change the world of tomorrow.”
The school, which is regularly named among the top exam performers in the country, has a “problem-based” approach to learning, according to its Director of Digital Development. This has helped pupils build resilience and perseverance, as well as some impressive projects.
“One pupil used a micro:bit to water their plants remotely while they were on holiday,” Vaughan Connelly said. “We’ve had GCSE students develop their own neural networks; one pupil even wrote his own web browser.
“We are a great believer in the concept of ‘yet’, as in: you haven’t quite got it yet but you will. Activities like the Rocket Car Competition really galvanise the boys, equipping them with the desire to experiment and try something new. Our physics department is consulted and the teachers adapt their lessons to bring in what the kids have learnt today. The IT and DT departments are looking at what they can do with micro:bits over the summer. We talk about what we have learnt and craft lessons around that. It’s important to show the kids what’s possible.”
Two former pupils of Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School attended the Rocket Car Competition to help out. They have both gone on to technology jobs.
Nabil Freeman, who left the school in 2011, is now Chief Technology Officer for on-demand, at-home beauty service LeSalon. “When I was here I learnt problem solving and independent learning,” he said. “I couldn’t have the career I do now unless I had done that. When I see a problem now, I want to solve it. It’s important kids do that.”
Daniel Manson left the school in 2006. He now works as a software engineer at housing start-up Land Insight.
“I came back for this event because I want to motivate young people to think big and work in teams,” he said. “It’s important that they learn to assess problems, too: is this overly ambitious? Is this a risk I can take? If everything is laid out perfectly then you don’t take risks and you don’t learn. Maybe you don’t succeed this time, but that’s OK.”
Microsoft is playing its part to encourage youngsters to learn digital skills. The company launched a programme earlier this year to make digital skills available to people across the UK to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies.
The company will train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills; make sure everyone in the UK has access to free; online digital literacy training, launch a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in the UK in advanced cloud technology skills by 2020; and recruit an extra 30,000 digital apprentices through its own programme for its network of 25,000 partners in the UK.