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Epsom College gets award double whammy

The college followed its Digital School of the Year title with wins in all three categories of the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 21, 2017 | Secondary

Epsom College has won the Digital School of the Year award and all three categories in the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge.

The college has recently been named as joint winner of the prestigious ParentZone Digital School of the Year Award 2017, which recognises commitment to online safety and digital resilience. Soon after, they discovered that the college's STEM Club had won all three categories in the Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge, which took place during November and December 2016.

Digital School Awards

This year, entries to the awards, which recognise Digital Schools members who have proved their dedication to digital excellence, were so strong that two winners were named with Epsom winning the senior category and St Andrew's Church of England School in Plymouth taking the primary school award.

ParentZone works with parents and schools to offer expert online advice and content and the award is given to schools that have gone the extra mile to maximise online opportunities for pupils and the whole school community while minimising the risks they face online.

It comes after recent press coverage following a year-long study that revealed how ill-equipped children are in coping with the challenges of the online world.

The college was selected for the award following its outstanding work in this area, spearheaded by Director of Welfare, Helen Keevil.  

Helen described the lessons and workshops the college provides to its students. “Lessons and whole school Internet safety awareness days to help keep pupils safe online are an important part of the academic year. In PSD (Personal and Social Development) lessons, for example, PowerPoint presentations from the Parent Zone site are delivered to pupils in Years 7-13 and junior pupils all complete a four-week digital safety passport course,” she said.

Embedding the digital world in a traditional well-established teaching and learning environment has been fun and highly rewarding - Helen Keevil, Epsom College's Director of Welfare

“Online behavioural experts visit the college regularly to work with L6th pupils to tidy their digital footprint ahead of starting UCAS applications and work placements. Embedding the digital world in a traditional well-established teaching and learning environment has been fun and highly rewarding".

The prize includes a session with the Parent Zone online safety team, £250 in Amazon vouchers towards school technology, plus an opportunity for 30 pupils to visit the Sky Academy Skills Studios in Isleworth to meet media presenters and to make their own programme on digital safety.

Balloon Challenge

The Boscombe Down Balloon Challenge is a STEM outreach event which was organised by the Boscombe Down Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society to celebrate the society's 150th Anniversary.

Teams from 12 schools around the UK took part in the competition, which sought to challenge students in a field that is not normally available to them. The main objectives were the selection of a high-pressure foil balloon of less than 2m in diameter and the development of a telemetry unit to try and achieve any, or all, of three goals: The furthest distance from launch (range); the longest flight duration (endurance); and the highest altitude (height). Each category carried a prize of £1,000 for the winning school.

While some of the competing schools bought in telemetry units, which can make each launch cost more than £200, all the software and hardware for the tracker on the College's balloon were designed and built by Sixth Form members of the STEM Club under the guidance of Head of Chemistry, Jamie Styles, and Head of Physics, Chris Telfer, with some extra help from OE Julian Nott, who has set several balloon records.

By designing the circuit boards, writing the software, and using "Pic Chips" that cost less than £1 each, the college team could launch their balloon at a small fraction of this cost. At the same time, it allowed students to turn their hand to electronics engineering, software coding and PCB design, as well as several other engineering challenges.

"Being able to launch multiple times gave us some excellent feedback loops where we could apply what we had learnt to the next launch and improve our design, and software," said Jamie Styles.

In total, the college team launched six balloon flights from Epsom Downs between 22nd November and the deadline on 31st December. Flight plans were posted on habhub.org, which allowed observers from around the country and in the Netherlands to help track the balloons. The first flight won both the range category, with a distance from launch of 120.8 nautical miles, and the endurance category, with a total flight time of 3 hours, 11 minutes, and 17 seconds. The final flight won the height category with an altitude of 78,510 feet, which is almost twice the cruising altitude of commercial jets!

Jamie Styles and Chris Telfer are delighted to have steered the STEM Club towards winning this nationwide challenge and are looking forward to using the prize money to roll out a balloon project with local prep schools as part of the College's Science Outreach programme.

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