Case Study: Archbishop McGrath

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Thomas Fricker took part in our Robotics Competition back in 2016 and – along with his fellow team members from Archbishop McGrath Comprehensive School and teacher Fiona Greenwood – won at our grand final. This year, he supported his younger sister and the 2023 Archbishop McGrath team in their bid to reclaim the title of Champions! Here’s his story…

Thomas has always had a keen interest in computer science, but his eyes were really opened when he was first taught to program in Scratch in Year 6. Learning that he could create whatever he could think of using tools he could understand was fascinating to him. He was disappointed that there was less Scratch involved in his secondary school classes, until he joined the code club.

As he loves figuring out how things work, he joined a coding club at school that was part of Technocamps, where he enjoyed designing, engineering and building a robot using the LEGO MINDSTORMS kit that was provided. He remembers helping mainly with the theory behind the code for the robot and programming it. Then another member of the team, Sam, built the robot.

Due to restrictions on numbers, Thomas didn’t attend the final event in-person, but he remembers programming the robot and testing the code over and over again with little improvements each time, until the team finally got it working. Simple trial and error worked a charm!

The most challenging part for Thomas was the old language for the LEGO MINDSTORMS. It was tedious and not very intuitive compared with Scratch (which they were more used to!). The modern kits use a language which is almost identical to Scratch, which now makes things a lot easier! Another challenge was delegating who within the team did what and ensuring everyone all did their roles in a way that would piece everything together correctly at the end, especially with the code.

Thomas most enjoyed having the opportunity to work on something he was proud of. It was the first time he’d been part of a coding project and he was proud of the robot the team created. For it to then go on to win the competition was the icing on the cake, proving that all their hard work was worth it.

As a deputy head in Year 13, Thomas gathered a group of computer science students from Years 12 and 13 to help him teach pupils in his former primary school, much like he was taught. He wanted to give them the opportunity that set him on this path, and his sister was part of that class they taught. Each Wednesday afternoon, Thomas led the group, teaching them with the aid of two friends, Sam and Will (who were both part of the original Archbishop McGrath winning team too!).

In this year’s Robotics Competition, Thomas’s sister Sofia Fricker (currently in Year 7 at Archbishop McGrath) took part with three fellow students, and Head of ICT and Computing, Fiona Greenwood, was once again supporting the team. Thomas came along to cheer on the team and enjoyed seeing Sofia excel. The team won the South Wales Live Challenge, using the same robotics kit they won using seven years ago.

Fast forward to today, and Thomas has passed his first year in Computer Science at Swansea University. He will now transfer to study Artificial Intelligence in-line with the current significance in AI. After graduating, he would like to be self-employed by creating apps, programs and products. He already uses the skills he learnt from Technocamps when working on projects with peers – including how to hold himself, when to contribute and when to listen.

It was awesome to see the current Year 7s winning competitions at Technocamps using the kit that my team won back when we were in Year 7! It was surreal to go from teaching her to program, to seeing her win competitions for her school with all the hard work she and her classmates put in, it’s a great feeling that makes me so proud of what she has achieved. I hope to become a part of Technocamps so that I can help more people to have these opportunities.” – Thomas Fricker

Our very first Code Club team took part in the Technocamps robotics competition back in 2016.  They designed and built a robot to aid in an education environment and were awarded first prize.  This was a truly inspirational experience for them, with many of the team going on to study Computer Science at GCSE and A Level and some choosing to study the subject at university. Technocamps’ annual Game of Codes and Robotics competitions provide challenges for our younger students to explore and develop their programming skills, as well as giving our Computer Science A Level students opportunities to lead and mentor.” – Fiona Greenwood, Head of ICT and Computing, Archbishop McGrath Catholic High School