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31 May 2022

The UKCT Challenges Progression Pathway

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Paul Baker

Over the years, the UKMT has become embedded in many UK schools through their annual system of competitive maths challenges which offer a mix of solo and team events across a number of age groupings.

We have modelled UKCT Challenges ( on the UKMT pattern to create a 'progression pathway' of computational thinking and coding challenges which schools can embed within their annual schemes of work. Our challenges are similarly designed to be run within schools and without requiring any significant expertise from the staff coordinator. Each challenge is open for a certain 'window' during the school year. Our opportunities commence from age 6 and offer free entry for all through our sponsors' generosity. Interestingly, the contest management system that we use has now also recently been adopted by the UK and Australian Maths challenges (AMT, UKMT).

We include a mix of solo and team events to offer students different experiences which challenge different skills. Our challenges offer certification at participation, merit and distinction levels. The PCTC team challenge also competes to be named on the trophy, with prize money for the top three placed teams.

Our progression pathway includes:

  • Bebras UK (in school, computational thinking puzzles, years 2-13 across 6 different age bandings, plus a band specifically for blind students)
  • OUCC rounds 1 and 2 (in schools, for qualifiers from Bebras and including some blockly or text-code tasks, years 6-13 across 4 different age bands)
  • PCTC Round 1 (in schools, text-coding challenges in pairs, years 7-11 across 2 different age bandings)
  • PCTC Round 2 (in schools, for qualifiers from round 1 in trios)
  • BIO Round 1 (in schools, usually suited to years 12-13)
  • BIO Round 2 (at Cambridge, for qualifiers from round 1)

The pathway ends with the opportunity in the second round of the British Informatics Olympiad to qualify for the UK team of four in the international IOI competition.

Administration is kept as easy as possible. Teachers have access to a school admin area on the system in which they can create 'skeleton users' (automated login batches) to simplify the administration.

Within UKCT, we also recognise the need to provide structured resources to assist in preparation and development. These include:

  • a 'pre-competition' set of turtle browser challenges.
  • a new quizzes system which allows schools to produce customised auto-marking tasks for their classes, at any time of the year, pulling in questions from our past catalogue to create a mix of computational thinking, Blockly and code problems.
  • the competitions also facilitate ongoing practice on the most recent competition questions via each competition site which stays open during the year.
  • our latest resource, PythonSponge: a login-free, client-side python IDE including debug breakpoint and tracing support. This tool includes some introductory tutorial tasks, some drag-drop exercises and a growing collection of 'fun challenges' which could also be used in extra-curricular settings.

The statistics show that the UK maintains a keen and growing interest in competitive computational thinking challenges but we know we could go further still with more SOW embedding. The development of algorthmic and problem-solving skills, not to mention the enthusing and extending/enriching, more than justifies the time allocation required and the unified system makes it easier than ever. By signing up to mailing lists, teachers can stay informed ahead of each competition cycle, gain access to the quizzes facility, and can always 'start small' to gain experience before scaling up to allow all of their students the 'exciting familiarity' which each new competition cycle brings. Many teachers testify to the buzz that is created at event time and we look forward to welcoming additional schools into the competition next year.

Bebras participants from the international Bebras statistics Nov 21 - Apr 22

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