June 27, 2018

Scottish students win the Cracking the Code challenge organised by the Tata group and Nesta

Nine teams competed to design an escape room using puzzles and maths in the Cracking the Code challenge

A team of students from Elgin Academy, Moray, Scotland, have been announced as winners of the Cracking the Code competition. As winners of the competition, set up to encourage students to use maths creatively, their ‘space prison’ escape room design will be turned into a reality in autumn this year and they will receive £2,000 to support maths programmes in their school.

The winners of the Cracking the Code competition organised by the Tata group and Nesta

The competition, run by Nesta, the innovation foundation, in partnership with Tata group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) asked students to design their own crystal maze style escape room by coming up with a storyline and a series of puzzles that must be solved to get out. The Cracking the Code competition is a part of the Maths Mission, a series of pilots seeking to find the most effective ways to increase young people’s interest in maths, and improve their collaborative problem-solving skills.

The winning team of 11-14 year olds, going by the name of HMS Supanova, set its escape room scenario in a space prison of the future, where prisoners are held and then ejected out into space. Having been framed for a crime, the escape room player must solve the puzzles in time in order to avoid being lost in space forever. The team went above and beyond the brief, created a video, 3D printed the escape room and made an impressive presentation.

The final of the competition, held at The Crystal in London, saw nine teams of finalists from schools across the UK present their ideas to a panel of eight judges, including Bruno Ready, founder of Times Table Rockstars, Maggie Steel of Funkey Maths, Zoe Cunningham, managing director of Softwire, Will Woods, an escape room expert and a number of volunteers from TCS.

In its first year, 118 schools registered for the competition from across the UK, with 400 students participating, consisting of 41 percent boys and 59 percent girls.

 A team from Al-Ashraf Secondary School for Girls, Gloucestershire, were announced as runners up for their escape room based in a museum in the year 3000, where participants have to crack the code to get out of the room before time runs out. This carefully designed entry included puzzles that felt really authentic to an escape room – including Morse code and Braille, providing a physical, sensory and logical experience of maths.

Carrie, 13 years old and a member of the winning team from Elgin Academy, said, “It was a great experience and I cried when I found out we’d won. We developed our teamwork a lot and all became much better friends.”

David Landsman, executive director, Tata Ltd, said “We at Tata wanted to be involved in Maths Mission because we know that maths is vital for almost everything people do across all of our businesses, whether it’s making cars, tea bags, Indian lunches, or steel for buildings. All of our 65,000 employees in the UK use maths everyday at work so it’s important that we instil our young people with an interest in maths and ensure that they have the confidence to explore all the exciting things it can be used for.”

Joysy John, director for education at Nesta, says, “With Cracking the Code we wanted to show students just what you can achieve if you mix maths with a bit of creativity and collaborative problem solving. And they did not disappoint! From trying to escape from outer-space school to fleeing the effects of global warming, the students really let their imaginations run riot. The world is changing and we will need maths to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world, especially in a digital age. It’s important to get young people thinking laterally about it now so they realise that maths isn’t just about solving problems for yourself, but can be used to tackle some of the problems we’re all facing together.”

Currently the UK is not as good at maths as it should be. Maths is the foundation of learning and achievement in science, technology and engineering, yet UK teenagers came 27th in the OECD’s most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) international rankings for Maths.