NCSS Challenge 2019

The National Computer Science School Challenge is up and running again for 2019. This year we have our 7 Newman class and our 8.1 class taking part in the Challenge. We are looking to see if it is possible to embed the Challenge within the Stage 4 curriculum.

The NCSS Challenge lasts for 5 weeks and students are presented with weekly challenges that help them learn more about coding. The Challenge is divided into levels and various coding types. There is the block coding for those students just starting on their coding journey while the more challenging levels use Python.

Our 7 Newman students are all taking on the Beginner Level of the Challenge using Python. This will be a great opportunity for them to have fun while developing their programming skills. One period of their Maths class per week is devoted to the Challenge.

Our 8.1 class consists of some exceptionally gifted coders. Five students are taking on the Championship Level of the Challenge. This is traditionally where you find senior students competing.  At this level they will build Artificial Intelligence (AI) to play a competitive card game, and then go head to head against other AIs. They will learn how to build the AI but they will have to work out the winning strategy themselves.

For most of the students in this class it will be the Intermediate Level which caters for students with previous coding experience. A number of the students completed the Beginner Level in 2018 so this will be a perfect opportunity to improve their skills in using Python.

The Challenge is more than just learning code, it helps develop critical and computational thinking in our students. They also learn to persist with a problem as they cannot move forward until they have completed the previous week’s task. Some essential skills for success, particularly in Mathematics.

St Clare’s is listed as a ‘Champion School’ on the Grok website because of the amount of work we do to develop coding skills amongst our students. We are working hard to build a culture of innovation within the College and our involvement with Grok is just one piece in the puzzle.


microShower Update

Our Year 8 SteamPunk students have been working on further developing their ‘microShower’ device that came out of their work with the team at UTS SteamPunk Girls.


The device has now been through a few stages of development with the team 3D printing their design each time an alteration is made. They have two major issues left to resolve, one is around keeping the device waterproof while allowing access to the battery and the other is having a more streamlined design that enable all components to to be contained securely inside.

The basic concept is that the device sits on a wall in the bathroom and using a motion sensor it detects when someone enters the shower. Using a microBit the team have programmed, the device will begin monitoring the time a person spends in the shower. The lights on the microBit will then change colour and shape to indicate when a person has spent too long in the shower. Seeing a red angry face means you have been in there too long and used way too much water!

The team are hoping to have their final product ready for testing by the end of this term. Given the state of our dam levels they could be on a winner with this product!

Year 8 Visual Arts Excursion

On Monday the 29th of July, Year 8 took part in a Visual Arts excursion to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and Luna Park Sydney. Students were encouraged to explore the different elements of contemporary art. By evaluating, describing and discussing different pieces in the Shaun Gladwell exhibition — such as the videography artwork Storm Sequence — they were able to conclude that art can take form in any shape, size or format.

Afterwards, teachers and students walked up to The Rocks to sketch terraces, using rough lines and fine detail. They then continued up to a look-out point over Circular Quay, where 360 ̊ panoramic drawings on cups were created by Year 8. Along their trip through the CBD, photos of the architecture, city scapes and harbour were taken to contribute to future art assignments and to expose the Year 8 art classes to photography.

Classes then took coaches across the harbour to Luna Park Sydney in Milsons Point. There students took photos of different carnival features, and visited Coney Island to spend the last hour of the trip on rides, slides and navigating through mirror mazes.

Newman Symposium Update

It is worth reflecting on the work done by our students at the Newman Symposium last week. All five teams performed brilliantly and impressed everyone with their knowledge of the many different components that would be required to send humans to Mars.

The presentations were required to follow a set format, starting from the introduction of each member of the mission team, explaining how to get to Mars and the issues surrounding such a trip, surviving on the planet and what a Mars base might look like. Each team was also required to include an advertisement that was designed to sell a trip to Mars.

Once the presentations were finished each team had to demonstrate how they would incorporate autonomous machines on the planet by programming a drone, a Sphero and a robot to move around their Mars base.

This was a great way to finish our STEM project that the students had worked on throughout Term 2. This project will now be refined to implement across all Year 7 in Term 2, 2020.

Here is a compilation of excerpts from each of the five presentations.

Maths Pathway Update

Our Year 7 students have now been using the Maths Pathway program for two terms and it is worth looking at how it has changed the way we teach Mathematics in Stage 4.

One of the common misconceptions about Maths Pathway is that it is an online program that students work through with little interaction between teacher and student. Another is the teacher no longer teaches but facilitates. Neither of these could be further from what actually happens.

Maths Pathway is nothing like the popular online Mathematics programs like Mathletics or Hot Maths. The only similarity is that the students access the content online while completing all work in their exercise books. Maths Pathway is basically an online textbook where students work through tasks in their workbooks. Maths Pathway tracks each student as they complete modules and tests.

The students work in fortnightly cycles where they are required to complete a set number of modules in class and at home. At the end of the fortnightly process each student completes a test that is based on what they have completed for that fortnight. Obviously each student has a completely individualised test that is generated by the Maths Pathway program. The test is in two parts, one written and the other online.

We have reviewed this process in an earlier post on this blog.

What happens in a normal Maths lesson is what seems to confuse most people. If each student is working on an individual program how does the teacher teach the class? Well they teach as they would normally do but they target their teaching according to where the students are at. They teach ‘mini-lessons’ to smaller groups according to what topic students are working on. The groups are based on data generated by the Maths Pathway program.

The benefits of this is students are being exposed to concepts they are ready for. No longer are students sitting in a class not understanding what is being explained or bored because they already know it. The data that is generated by the Maths Pathway program ensures the teacher knows exactly where the gaps in knowledge are for each student.

We will continue to post information about the program throughout the year. Here is a stop motion video from a normal daily lesson that was held this week.

Newman Symposium

The first St Clare’s College Newman Symposium was held on Wednesday afternoon prior to the Open Evening. The purpose of the symposium was to showcase some of the outstanding learning that had been taking place in our Year 7 Newman class during the first half of the year.

The focus of the symposium was on the recent Space STEM project the students had been working on throughout last term. The class was divided into five ‘mission’ teams and each team was responsible for creating a visual presentation that demonstrated how they responded to the driving question, ‘Can we live on Mars?’.

Each team was also required to construct a prototype of their planned Mars base and code a drone, a robot and a Sphero to move autonomously around the space. There was an added dimension with a time limit being imposed on the students, much in the style of the ‘Masterchef’ pressure tests!

The symposium was a wonderful way of showcasing the incredible learning opportunities the students had been exposed to over the term. The quality of visual and oral presentations across all five teams was exceptional, while the ability to code a drone, a robot and a Sphero to move around the Mars bases was very impressive.

We will share the individual presentations at a later date but here is a collection of video and images from the preparation through to the final presentation.

Drone STEM Project

Our Year 8.1 students began their second STEM unit for the year at the start of this term. The driving question for the unit is, “How can people and technology improve society?’ The students will be using our Parrot Mambo drones and drone technology in general to investigate this question.

The project was launched last week in their Science class with the students working with their teacher, Miss Ruan, and our technical guru, Mr Ben Johnson. Miss Ruan led the students through the process of unpacking the driving question, while Mr Johnson took the girls through the basics of the Parrot Mambo.

In Maths the students will be developing their skills in using and analysing data. They will look at how different companies use drones to gather and analyse data as well as making comparisons between drone companies based on available data. Companies like PrecisionHawk are leading the world in using AI to make analysing data more efficient.

In Science it will be all about ecosystems and how drone technology is enabling society to monitor and manage ecosystems more efficiently. The students will be required to program their drone to map out the ecosystem that exists within our magnificent front garden. They will also look at drone companies like DroneSeed that are emerging in the agriculture industry.

In Technology all Year 8 students are involved in using the drones through their unit, ‘Engineered Systems’. This unit will run until the end of 2019, so there will be opportunities for all Year 8 students to learn to code the drones and explore how drones are humans are changing the way we view our world.

Initially we had planned for this project to be purely a STEM project, however, with the vast amount of innovation happening with drone mapping, Mrs King was keen to get the students exploring this question in their Geography class.

We are looking forward to sharing more of this project as it develops over the coming weeks.

Space STEM Update

Our Year 7 Newman class members have been busily preparing for next week’s inaugural Newman Symposium. The symposium will be a showcase of some of the amazing learning that has been happening across all their subjects so far this year.

The current Space STEM project will be one of the features of the symposium with each of the ‘mission teams’ presenting their response to the driving question, ‘Can we live on Mars?’

Each team will be required to create a model of their proposed Mars base within a 2.6 metre by 3.6 metre space. They also need to incorporate a working drone, robot and Sphero to simulate the various activities which could possibly take place on Mars in those initial years of inhabitation. Each device needs to be coded to work autonomously!

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Each team will also be required to have a visual presentation that outlines exactly how humans could survive on Mars and how they would overcome the obvious challenges that humans would face.

It has been fascinating to watch the conversations as the deadline comes closer. It is crucial each team works as a unit to ensure their presentations reflect the time and effort they have put in. Working in this way replicates what happens in the modern workforce and allows some great lessons to be learnt along the way.

The symposium takes place on Wednesday 31st July from 5-6pm and will be followed by the Open Evening from 6-7:30pm.

Year 9

On Friday 28 June, a group of Year 9 English students had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) and participate in Red Room Poetry’s Poetry Object workshop. The students were engaged in a series of imaginative activities in poetry and interpretive writing and museology, led by Eunice Andrada, one of Red Room Poetry’s commissioned poets. Eunice also shared her own special object poem, Alebrije with students and the MAAS Curator, Campbell Bickerstaff. 


Students were introduced to the Museum’s collection of miniature wax cows made by artist and sculptor, Wilhelmina Jurd, who lived in the New England area in NSW during the late 1800s. These model cows served as an example of fine craftsmanship whilst demonstrating the role of special objects in our lives.

Once students embraced the sentimental value of their own object, we were asked to explore a different point of view by writing a short introductory narrative about a partner’s object. These then prompted the final activity in which students were to display their treasured object with the accompanying narrative in a miniature exhibition. Student’s exhibited objects ranged from stuffed toys to necklaces, which served as inspiration for composing our own Poetry Object poem.

Coming to the end of the workshop, although I was exhausted from trying to come up with as many poetic techniques as possible, the overall result from this workshop has not only inspired me to start writing more poems but improve my writing incredibly with the assistance of staff from Red Room Poetry and the MAAS. Admittedly, it was extremely difficult to write about my family evil-eye necklace, however, I am now inspired to enter in The Red Room Project’s 2019 Poetry Object Competition.

Brooke Soleas (Year 9)

Space STEM Project

Coding was the order of the day in today’s Space STEM project. Our Year 7 Newman girls had all three devices on the go as they worked out how to code each device to work within the given space.

There were some interesting problems that the students encountered that required some creative thinking. The Sphero devices do not replicate a circuit very well when coded due so there was a lot of discussion around how this would play out during the final presentations.

Another student found that her robot had traction issues on the surface they will be given to present on so she went about changing the robot into a form that would be better able to deal with the conditions.

It is this creative problem solving that we need to exposing our students to regularly. It was certainly amazing to see so much happening in one lesson!