Elgin pupils beat eight other finalists to win UK ‘Cracking the Code’ challenge

Pupils from Elgin Academy in Moray have been announced as winners of theCracking the Code competition.

Run by Nesta, the innovation foundation, in partnership with Tata group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the competition asked students to design their own crystal maze-style escape room by coming up with a story-line and a series of puzzles to be solved in order to escape.

As winners of the competition, set up to encourage students to use maths creatively, Elgin Academy’s ‘space prison’ escape room design will be turned into a reality in autumn this year – and the school will receive £2,000 to support maths programmes.

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 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,” said the organisers.

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% boys and 59% 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,” the organisers added.

Carrie, 13 years old and a member of the winning team from Elgin Academy, commented: “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 of Tata, said: “We 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, added: “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.”