Fifteen young people reach new heights with NASA data!

Over the weekend of 19/20 October 2019, fifteen young people from 6 DigiLocal clubs took part in the NASA-led International Space Apps Challenge.

Since its inception in 2012, NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge has become the world’s largest global hackathon, engaging thousands of citizens across the globe to use NASA’s open data to build innovative solutions to challenges we face on Earth and in space.

Space Apps inspires local communities to come together, think intensely, and create solutions to important problems. Each year, Space Apps engages thousands of individuals in cities around the world to work with NASA’s open source data in a 48-hour sprint. Teams of technologists, scientists, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, and others collaborate to answer some of the most pressing challenges on Earth and in space.

A special thanks has to go to Alex (President, UWE Space Exploration Society) for welcoming us to the Student’s Union building and hosting some very excited young people (and a few very excited volunteer mentors)! It was a great honour for our young people to join the UWE students and industry participants in this 2-day challenge.

Our young people tackled the challenges of how to;

  • spot and communicate wild fires in remote parts of the globe,
  • get cheap internet to the remote oceans,
  • gamify the clearance of space junk,
  • gamify deep space data through a ‘build a solar system workshop’,
  • explain and demonstrate the issue of marine pollution from plastics, and
  • use NASA earth data to educate people about our planet!

In the true spirit of hackathons and codejams, 5 of our young people stayed over night and were still coding into the early hours of the morning! The last laptop was turned off around 4:30 am. I don’t think the parents that came in to mind the overnight portion were expecting such enthusiasm and staying power from their 10 year olds.

Sunday morning found the young people up and coding at the break of dawn. Those that hadn’t stayed overnight returned at 9am eager to catch up and complete their projects.

By the official close of the event (4pm Sunday, 20 Oct) we had a range of fantastic projects, accompanied by presentations and live demo’s!

Team Space Potatoes presenting their project

All the young people did exceptionally well and many were awarded their Green or Orange LINKS Award wristbands in recognition of their achievements. Green wristbands are awarded for exceptional performance on an individual project, and Orange is awarded for exceptional performance in a group project.

Two teams were put forward to the global judging, and two special awards were made locally. The first Special Commendation went to Team Space Potatoes (Dean, Jane, and Milly) “Create your dream solar system” in the Build a Planet challenge for their creativity and the original music score that they had composed to go with their game. The second went to Team Super Code (Zane) “Journey of the other kind” in the 1UP for NASA Earth challenge for his very confident presentation and knowledge about how he’d like to develop his game further.

Aarush (Team Ember) with his Certificate and some of their planning diagrams

The two nominated projects from Bristol for global judging were The Magic Music Box from Digital Bad, and Team Ember (Aarush, Alex, Ben, and Rishi) “Wildfire tracking in Indonesia” in the Spot that fire V2.0 challenge. With three young people from three different DigiLocal clubs, this was a great example of what can be achieved in a codejam environment.

Team Ember receiving their Orange LINKS Awards from DigiLocal CEO Dr John Bradford and Prof Chris Toomer (UWE, Judging panel)

Much of Saturday morning was spent planning how they would tackle the project and setting up their resources. Github and Discord were heavily used by all the teams, along with quite a bit of Stackoverflow!

Team Ember were also notable that they mostly used C# and php, two languages that aren’t part of the ‘normal’ projects we use at DigiLocal. Aarush and Rishi did exceptionally well to translate their python knowledge to these new languages in a remarkably short period of time.

Alongside the young people we had a fantastic team of 10 volunteers supporting everyone with advise and guidance. We also had parents invited for the presentations and awards ceremony.

It was a real honour to have been a small part in bringing this event together and we’re already planning for Space Apps Challenge 2020!

Graduation 2019!

DigiLocal is supporting the development of problem solving skills and building resilience in young people. We do this by supporting communities to run tech clubs for their young people.

We also encourage and celebrate participation in extra-curricular activities outside of school. The impact of these activities is proven to be positive which is why we’re committed to creating a level playing field of opportunity and opening up access to children of all backgrounds.

One of these celebrations is through the Children’s University.

The Children’s University is an international charity devoted to helping children discover the fascinating world around them, and appreciate the real-world relevance of their school subjects. We encourage 5–14 year olds to take part in all kinds of activities outside of school, so that they can develop new interests, learn new skills and enjoy new experiences.

We’ve been a registered Learning Destination since 2018 and had our first successful graduate in the class of ’19!

Since launching our clubs as Learning Destinations, we’ve signed up 12 young people from 5 different clubs and registered over 200 hours collectively!

Image courtesy of Bristol and South Gloucestershire Children’s University.

Mission Success!

Alex @ Barton Hill

Seven teams of young people across the region complete challenge to have their code run on computers in space!

Seven teams of young people from Bristol and the West have completed the AstroPi Mission Zero coding challenge. The challenge is a national programme which offers young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space by writing computer programs that run on Raspberry Pi computers aboard the International Space Station.

Neeti @ Bradley Stoke

The teams, with members aged from 8 to 14, were all members of DigiLocal, a charitable organisation which seeks to bring coding clubs into the heart of communities through a network of volunteer ambassadors. The challenge was running from February this year, with teams submitting entries based on the Python computer coding language that were developed during DigiLocal club sessions. 

This year 5,677 entries were received from the 24 ESA member/associate member states, with 4,621 being run on the International Space Station.  The certificates of completion were awarded to the seven teams throughout the region in June. Each certificate includes the team name, and a fantastic map on the back with the actual location of the ISS when that team’s program ran.

“We’re enormously proud of the hard work these teams have demonstrated. Giving young people access to opportunities they wouldn’t get elsewhere is key to DigiLocal. We do this by supporting communities to run tech clubs for those young people.”

Dr John Bradford, CEO of DigiLocal
Sara & Naby @ Docklands, St Pauls

The AstroPi challenge was part of British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake’s mission Principia (2015–2016) on the ISS. The UK Space Agency and the Raspberry Pi Foundation collaborated to foster young people’s interest in space science and to help them develop computing and digital making skills. For this purpose, two space-hardened Raspberry Pi computers, called Astro Pis, equipped with environmental sensors (a Sense HAT) were sent to the ISS and then used to run students’ and young people’s programs, with ISS crew support.

DigiLocal @ the BAFTA’s

Saturday 7 July saw myself and Anish Raja (DigiLocal@Bradley Stoke) heading up to London for the prestigious BAFTA Young Games Designer awards 2018!

BAFTA don’t release how many young designers enter the competition, but it’s run nationally across the UK. I know at least half a dozen other young people from the West of England region entered so Anish did exceptionally well to be selected as a Finalist.

In total there were 40 games on display across four categories:

  • Game Concept (10-14yr)
  • Game Concept (15-18yrs)
  • Game Making (10-14yrs)
  • Game Making (15-18yrs)

Anish was in the Game Concept (10-14yrs) and up against some very stiff competition.

In the end, the award went to Dalvia & Tiya Dhillon with their game concept for addressing mental health issues: Trapped

The BAFTA YGD stage

I was there as a Nominated Mentor of the Year. An amazing and very unexpected nomination, especially as you aren’t told who’s nominated you until they play the supporting video clips from your nominators.

I was completely floored when Primrose & Alex from DigiLocal@Barton Hill came up on the big screen!

Ultimately the mentor award went to Adam Syrop for his work with youth offenders.

However, as my nomination was the only one that draw a collective ‘Aww’ from the audience over Primrose’s statement, I think I was the real winner!

All told a fantastic day out, and I’ll be encouraging all young people within the DigiLocal communities to enter their ideas next year. We’ve developed some additional materials to help structure ideas and present them to the BAFTA judges.

We’ve also got more challenging projects to help develop those critical story-telling, and software engineering skills for a great game production.

Mission Mars!


One of the great challenges in supporting communities to run tech clubs for their young people is keeping a steady flow of really high quality projects for those young people to undertake. They need to be challenging and fun, educational and fun, embody good engineering principles and fun; did I mention they need to be fun?

At the start of the last academic year (Sept 2017) I put a proposal to the University of Bristol for their Physics Industrial Project module. I’d been in discussion with the School of Physics for about 6 months before this, understanding their needs and how to present a challenge that their students would appreciate, and that would give me some original new projects to share with our DigiLocal clubs.

The project brief I put in was selected by a crack team of four (Lily, Fiona, Lorna, and Ben) who would liaise with me as the ‘client’. My deliverable was (deceptively) simple, a new project guide that would enable DigiLocal® young people to build a Mission Mars game with at least 4 levels of difficulty. Their task was to incorporate ‘proper’ physics and produce a guide that had been tested with real young people from our network of DigiLocal clubs. This was not a lab exercise!

Fortunately the team took to it with huge gusto and immediately came up with a plan to incorporate the whole Key Stage 3 & 4 Physics Curriculum in a single game! At our first project catch-up meeting we discussed realistic deliverables and the time involved in producing high quality documentation as well as good physics code. This didn’t dampen their enthusiasm and they set off with renewed focus and unabated vigour.

Over the next few months they produced a range of games, from simple animation examples through to advanced computational models (Hohmann transfer orbits anyone?). All their ideas were rigorously tested with young people, the team worked directly with 4 clubs over the period and I hosted their draft guides with the main DigiLocal resources so all 16 clubs had access and quite a few tried them out unsupported.

One of the key objectives for the academic award was to use good educational theories in developing the project guides. The team researched and adopted the model of conceptual gain to evaluate the learning experienced over individual and multiple sessions (some of the guides went through more than 6 iterations). As well as an online questionnaire, they observed activity during the sessions (including the wonderfully titled ‘fiddle factor’ representing the confidence of the young people to experiment with the code to see what would happen), and had a number of conversations with young people about what was going on (semi-structured interviews). They were particularly interested in used model-driven code to challenge common misconceptions around physics, especially forces & motion.

Example of findings from the final report.

Summerhill was separated out because it was a Primary School and the abstract concepts were thought to be more advanced than would be expected for that age group (typically 8-10yrs). Sample sizes weren’t sufficient to claim significance, however, there were substantial gains across the board. This is fantastic as DigiLocal isn’t a curriculum driven service, which means we can afford to be more challenging than might be found in general teaching. In fact my un-official briefing to the team was not to be afraid to ‘blow their minds’ a little!

I was also relatively unconcerned that the guides produced were much longer than ‘normal’ project guides from CodeClub and others. Generally a club session is 1 hour and you can’t always guarantee that young people have Scratch accounts or usb-memory sticks to save their work between sessions. So most guides have to be achievable in 1-hour.

All our DigiLocal laptops are on a secure Dropbox account so the young people have their own save folders, which means they can happily carry work across multiple sessions. This give much greater flexibility to tackle large, more complex projects and concepts.

Ultimately the team produced 4 ‘major’ project guides (Take Off!, Getting to Mars, Moving around in Space & on Earth, and Touchdown Mars), along with 3 smaller projects and a pack of additional resources!

Some of our testers for Mission Mars! (taken a few weeks earlier when they’d just received their Yellow LINKS awards).

So what did the young people think?

Well between 60% & 80% of responses on the anonymous questionnaire felt they could do the projects ‘with a bit of help’, suggesting the challenge was there but not insurmountable.

And what about the fun?

Between 72% & 80% said the sessions were excellent (rising to 100% if you include good, it was a 4 point Likert scale). So yes, I think the team nailed it!

This was a fantastic experience for DigiLocal and the University of Bristol students. I’m currently drafting the brief for next year’s Industrial Project teams!

DigiLocal Spring Celebration – 2018

Demonstrating an original game idea in Scratch

The next generation(s) of high tech innovators came together on Saturday 10 March 2018 for a morning of sharing ideas, code, and enthusiasm for building cool stuff! We had representatives from Barton Hill, Bedminster, Bradley Stoke, Docklands, Malcolm X Community Centre, Redmaids, and Shirehampton clubs.

Our celebration events are an opportunity for young people from across our DigiLocal communities to gather and share their ideas and enthusiasm. Some have been working on projects guided by CodeClub materials, some have been working on their own side projects, and some on our larger Challenge project. All came on Saturday to showcase their work and learn from others.

In September 2017 we launched a major Challenge across all our DigiLocal clubs. The invitation has been for the young people to develop an idea for a business or environmental simulation / game, and to then build it in Scratch or Python. We’ve provided them with additional resources to help structure their development process. Many of the young people on Sat were exhibiting their projects and seeking testers for the next iteration.

One of the major announcements on Saturday was the launch of this year’s BAFTA Young Games Designer competition. Not by coincidence, the resources we’ve been using with our young people are from BAFTA. We expect these projects to be further enhanced over the next couple of months ready for the 25 April deadline for BAFTA. Volunteers have access to additional resources to help develop the applications and support our young people.

The second major announcement was the launch of our LINKS scheme for recognising the achievement of our young people. We want to encourage young people to 1) learn new things in their club activities; 2) put that learning into practice through our projects and challenges; and 3) to be rewarded for their achievements.

At each stage of LINKS, we review the projects our young people have undertaken, assess their commitment to their community club, and then reward them with a coloured USB wristband. As they undertake more complex projects, and become more involved through peer-mentoring, we reward them with different colours and higher capacity USB wristbands.

Dr John Bradford announcing the launch of our LINKS awards programme

Alongside the LINKS scheme we’re introducing new projects, such as our Mission Mars series and our ongoing series of Challenges to give young people even more opportunities to enjoy tech and practice what they have been learning.

This will provide us with a structured approach to maintaining engagement over the long term, whilst recognising the huge contribution our young people make to their communities.

Another really positive feedback from the day was the number of parents that asked to have access to their child’s saved work folder so they can continue working from home (where they have access to a home computer). We’ll be adding that parental access over the coming weeks to encourage more participation in high tech.

Redmaids’ Redland Hall

We were very grateful to Redmaids’ High School for the use of their fabulous Redland Hall for the day.

Redmaids has been an early supporter of DigiLocal and their club has produced a number of fantastic projects from the girls participating.