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Education

Aber robotics pioneer commemorated

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The Barnes ExoRover: With Stephen Fearn, Dr Matt Gunn, and Dr Helen Miles

A FULL scale model of the ExoMars rover which is set to search for life on Mars in 2021 has been named after a pioneering Aberystwyth University space roboticist.

Barnes has been named after the late Professor Dave Barnes who initiated Aberystwyth University’s involvement with the European Space Agency/Roscosmos mission to Mars.

Professor Barnes, who died suddenly in 2014, was also a leading member of the team that developed and built the innovative Beagle2 lander that formed part of the 2003 Mars Express mission.

Built by Stephen Fearn and Dr Matt Gunn from the Department of Physics, the Aberystwyth replica was unveiled by Sue Horne MBE, Head of Space Exploration for the UK Space Agency, and Dr Helen Miles from Aberystwyth University on Friday 29 June 2018, at a celebration of the work of Aberystwyth space scientists and solar physicists.

The Barnes ExoMars Rover will be used to promote the ESA/Roscosmos mission which is due to launch in 2020.

Using cameras and emulated instruments, the interactive model will also explain some of the science the mission’s actual rover will perform once it has landed on Mars.

Dr Helen Miles from the Department of Computer Science at Aberystwyth University has been instrumental in designing many of Aberystwyth’s ExoMars outreach activities.

Dr Miles said: “Deciding to name our full size model after Professor Dave Barnes was a poignant moment for us, but one very much in keeping with a tradition that has developed over the years. Several prototype rovers have been built as we prepare for the mission, and all have names starting with ‘B’.

“There are several prototype rovers in existence, Bridget, Brian and Bruno developed by Airbus, and here at Aberystwyth we have been working with a miniature half scale prototype that we have called Blodwen. So Barnes fitted perfectly.”

Dr Helen Miles developed a virtual model to produce simulated camera images from the rover, which is being used by engineers building the mission’s actual rover for the mission.

The ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Rover is being developed by Thales Alenia Space and built by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage.

Professor Barnes’ work on ExoMars included the development of the rover’s colour swatch, which was inspired by medieval stained glass.

Designed to withstand the very high levels of ultraviolet light on Mars which causes colours to fade quickly, the swatch will be used to calibrate the mission’s camera and spectrometer systems to ensure colours are recorded accurately.

Professor Barnes’s work has been progressed by the space robotics team at Aberystwyth University, led by Dr Matt Gunn, who is a member of three international instrument teams on the ExoMars mission.

The Aberystwyth team have been involved with field testing of prototype instruments and developing the pipeline for processing images sent back to Earth from Mars.

Dr Gunn and colleagues have been testing the mission’s camera system, PanCam, in remote desert like locations around the world, including Iceland, Utah in the USA and the Atacama Desert in South America.

Dr Gunn said: “The camera systems on this mission are highly sensitive as the scientists who work with these images will be looking for very subtle changes in colour. These images are not ordinary colour photographs; they will be used to work out the different types of rocks on Mars. It is known that some rocks form in wet environments, so accurately interpreting the images may help mission scientists to pinpoint where to look for possible signs of life.”

“Professor Barnes started all of our research with ExoMars and was a pioneer in space robotics. He is dearly missed and naming the Aberystwyth model is particularly apt. We are hoping the model will continue to inspire people in the way that Dave inspired us.”

The Aberystwyth ExoMars Rover is available for shows and school visits. To find out more visit the ExoMars at Aberystwyth University website. It is also possible to follow Barnes on Twitter @BarnesRover.c

Education

Pupil Language Ambassadors’ key role

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EACH year Pupil Language Ambassadors (PLAs) from schools across the ERW region work hard to increase awareness of the skills and opportunities, which come from studying a language amongst their peers. They speak in assemblies and to groups of their peers at school events. Their ambassadorial role is wide and varied and each year they work with their teachers to increase the number of pupils studying language at GCSE.

This year, the focus has been to utilise the skills of language ambassadors to work with primary school children where these committed linguists go into their nearby primaries and speak to key stage 2 pupils about the benefits of learning an additional language. This has helped to fulfil a crucial element of the national and regional priorities as set out in the work of Global Futures, a Welsh Government funded scheme to promote language learning for all.

In addition to their fantastic and creative work and projects, in March these motivated ambassadors attended the annual ERW Pupil Language Ambassador training at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. They met with other ambassadors from across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea to discuss their role and heaR from some inspirational speakers.

The purpose of the day was to help the pupils understand their role, to develop ideas for events they could run in their schools, to take part in language tasters and create a plan of action for supporting language learning in their school and their cluster.

The day began with a fantastic presentation from the Pupil Language Ambassadors from Ysgol Dyffryn Taf in Whitland. They spoke to the new PLAs about their achievements last year. They addressed the audience in many languages and set the tone for the day perfectly. The keynote speaker was Rhodri Bendle, Chief Consultant at Snowstyle Travel Company in Austria that specialises in Ski and Snowboarding holidays and tuition. He shared his own story about learning a German and how it has helped him to develop his own business.

Pupils then went into a series of workshops delivered by Routes Cymru, a team of professionals and student language ambassadors from Cardiff University who facilitated idea sharing and discussion about how to set up a language club and other ways of getting the message across about language learning.

Diane Evans, ERW, helped pupils to draw out their knowledge of the role of the ambassador across Wales and internationally. Pupils learned how to get their voices heard and how to make an impact in their time as language ambassadors in their community.

Alex Pickering represented the Goethe Institute at the event speaking with ambassadors about the importance of language in business. Ariane Laumonier, a consultant with the Institut Français ran a brilliant workshop on language and the world of work. Both Ariane and Alex used their own languages to convey the importance of learning a language and the benefits of developing multilingual learners.

Another aim of the day was to build confidence in ambassadors in learning and speaking an additional language. The language taster sessions from staff and postgraduate students at Swansea University all ran tasters that strengthen the priorities across Wales to learn and speak a new language. These were extremely well-received as always, pupils tried out languages that many of them had not learnt before including Polish, Italian, German and Mandarin.

Mererid Hopwood, Professor of Language at University of Wales Trinity Saint David inspired staff and students alike with her talk on the importance of striving for a Multi-lingual society in Wales with children and adults using their newly acquired language at every opportunity.

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Education

Over 100 schools at WRU Urdd 7s

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THIS month, the largest schools sevens tournament in Wales, the Urdd WRU 7s will be held at Pontcanna and Llandaff playing fields in Cardiff between 8-12 April and in Llandudno/ Colwyn Bay 3-4 April. Between both events, more than 100 schools, 431 teams and over 5,000 players are expected to take part. For the first time, a rugby festival for participants with disabilities will also be included this year.

Wales Grand Slam winner, Dragons back row Aaron Wainwright won the tournament with Bassaleg School just three years ago. He said, “I have very fond memories of the event. It was great to be part of a tournament like that and be successful with your school mates, some of whom didn’t play regular rugby so it really helped develop skills and fitness. It really helped me, I think I was picked up by the Dragons soon after that.

“It’s fantastic to see how the tournament has grown since then, moving to a bigger site, engaging more boys and girls and now involving a disability element too.”

Wales Women international Manon Johnes won the senior girls’ tournament with Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf two years ago and went on to represent Wales U18 Sevens at the Youth Commonwealth Games later that summer, winning Bronze, and travelled to Brisbane as part of the Wales Women Sevens squad within the same year. She now has seven senior caps under her belt and is still a pupil at Glantaf will return to the competition next month as coach of the school’s Year 7/8 team.

She said: “The Urdd 7s is fantastic, especially for girls’ participation in the game.

“It’s fun, the short games mean lots of game time and everyone can pick it up quite quickly.

“It was great to win the tournament with my own year group two years ago, and now, as a coach, I can see even more value in it.

“We’ve been training for the Urdd 7s already, the girls are excited. As a coach, I’ll try not to be too competitive but that won’t be easy, I can’t help it!

“We’ve got such big girls’ playing numbers in school now that we’ve been able to play 15 a side matches this year. The girls love to train but once they get a taste for rugby, they want to play games so it will be good to have a full day of competition.”

Eight schools are expected to take part in the disability festival on 12 April which will form part of the Cardiff event.

WRU Community Director Geraint John said: “Welsh rugby is a vital part of the fabric of our nation, I think the whole world has seen that since our Grand Slam win on the weekend. “Thanks to sharing a set of goals and philosophies with Chwaraeon yr Urdd, we are able to harness our combined resources and use the power of Welsh rugby to inspire the next generation and promote another intrinsic part of our culture – the Welsh language.

“Playing sevens in a school environment is a fantastic way to develop skills, fitness and game awareness while having great fun with your school friends. Whether they go on to represent the senior Wales sides such as Aaron (Wainwright) and Manon (Johnes) and many others who competed at the Urdd in their younger days or go on to play for their local rugby teams for years to come, the pupils participating in the Urdd WRU 7s next month are the future of our national game.

“Along with the wider benefits of this partnership with the Urdd, such as the collaboration between our respective apprentices to take rugby opportunities to non-traditional communities, the competition helps support our core aims of more boys and girls enjoying rugby – and developing better players for the game at all levels.

“Sevens is such an accessible format that can be played with fewer pupils in school year groups, and by boys and girls who are new to the game. There’s more space and more touches on the ball.

“We feel strongly that there is a place in rugby for everyone and are thrilled that for the first time, a rugby festival for participants with disabilities will also be included in the programme.

Sian Lewis, Chief Executive at Urdd Gobaith Cymru said: “Our partnership with the WRU continues to go from strength to strength as we strive to develop and enhance the provision and experience for all. Rugby is a game for everyone and we are especially pleased to announce the inclusion of the rugby festival for children and young people with disabilities as part of the 2019 event.”

“The Urdd WRU partnership enables us both to achieve key goals by increasing rugby participation and developing skills while also encouraging the use of the Welsh language outside of the classroom in a fun and informal environment.”

Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM added: “I am very grateful to the Urdd and the WRU for continuing to work in partnership with more than 100 schools across Wales to put on an event which involves thousands of children up and down the country. I hope that the fantastic efforts of our national women’s, men’s and under 20’s teams can inspire performances at the competition. I was also delighted to hear that a rugby festival for children and young people with disabilities will also be included this year – rugby, with all its various formats, is a sport for all. I wish everyone involved the very best of luck and once again, my sincere thanks to the Urdd and the WRU for their hard work in making this event possible.”

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Education

Wales leads way with Microsoft for schools

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WALES will be one of the first countries in the world to fund Microsoft classroom software applications for all maintained schools, thanks to new investment from the Welsh Government.

As classrooms continue to digitally evolve, this approach will ensure all schools across Wales have the same level of access to these essential software applications. This will help learners gain the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital world, an essential aim of the Welsh Government’s Digital Competence Framework.

Not only will this new £1.2 million investment improve equity of access to digital resources, but it is also a direct measure to support schools in reducing their costs and that of families. It follows recent announcements by the Minister for Education on support for school uniform costs and other kit, as the Government increases its share of funding for new school buildings and increases the number of children who benefit from free school meals.

The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, confirmed the software will be available via the Welsh Government’s Hwb digital learning platform, which is currently used by over 85% of schools in Wales.

The licensing deal contains a range of Microsoft products, including the full desktop version of Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus which includes a Welsh language interface and proofing tools, along with additional security features.

Also included is Minecraft Education Edition with Code Builder which provides a range of ways for learners to explore, create and experiment with coding. This supports the Welsh Government’s Cracking the Code plan to expand coding in every part of Wales.

All teachers and learners will be able to download and install the latest versions of all these software applications on up to 5 personal devices at no cost. Online versions of the software applications will continue to be available through Hwb for use anywhere, such as public computers in libraries.

Kirsty Williams said: “I’m proud to say we’re one of the first countries in the world to take this progressive approach to providing schools with this software. Through our curriculum reforms we want all learners to have relevant high-level digital, literacy and numeracy skills, and access to these applications is an important step towards achieving that.

“This will reduce the burden on schools to pay for their own licensing fees and also ensure all our schools have the same level of access to the digital tools they need to progress these skills in our learners. This is vital as we aim to reduce the attainment gap and increase standards in our schools.”

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, said: “The introduction of Office 365 will be transformational for both teachers and pupils, empowering them to collaborate more effectively, saving time and generating better learning outcomes. Equally, Office 365 provides students with valuable skills to help them obtain employment following school,” said Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK.
“Additionally, the accessibility tools built into Office 365 will mean all students gain the confidence to contribute to learning discussions. Similarly, with Minecraft Education Edition, students will develop computational thinking skills in an immersive and classroom-friendly format that sparks creativity and innovation. This agreement ensures Wales retains its position as a world leader in digital education delivery.”

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