Children playing Rapid Router

Welcome to the Ocado Technology Webinars, where you can hear from the people building the ground-breaking, game-changing technology that powers Ocado, the world’s largest online-only grocery retailer.

In this webinar Celine Boudier, Code for Life team leader, talks about how a group of volunteers at Ocado Technology are creating an educational platform to inspire the next generation of technologists.

 

Key Takeaways

 

  • Education is one of the four core values of the Ocado Group, alongside promoting entrepreneurship, protecting the environment, and encouraging people to eat well
  • Teaching children to program is not just about nurturing future software engineers but also providing everyone with a meta-skill that has a transformative potential in our increasingly digital world
  • Many educators find teaching their students the basic skills and thinking required for programming much more difficult than explaining the syntax of a programming language
  • Rapid Router is an educational game from Code for Life that focuses on developing the logical thinking skills required for programming in primary school children
  • The Rapid Router package includes many other resources for teachers looking to teach computing, including full lessons plans, code examples, classroom activities and more

 

0:15: Code for Life is an initiative aiming to address the challenges faced by educators teaching computing in primary schools

1:12: The project is mostly volunteer-based but also includes a robust full-time team made up of software interns and a UX expert from Ocado Technology

1:34: Understanding the fundamentals of programming is a life skill for many children growing up in an increasingly online world

3:30: Code for Life has been designed to help teachers help students interested in computing

4:40: Rapid Router is the first educational game created by Code for Life, teaching algorithms and computing skills through Blockly and Python

6:13: How Rapid Router helps children migrate progressively from Blockly to Python

6:44: Alongside the actual game, teachers have access to a portal where they can create virtual classrooms and register new students

7:05: The design of the Code for Life portal and Rapid Router game is based on different teacher personas created after extensive user research and interviews

9:30: Code for Life also focuses on bridging the gap between gaining basic computing skills and being competent at programming

10:25: The next big educational game from Code for Life will target secondary schools and will teach the basics of AI and Python

11:12: The Code for Life team is also working on creating a mobile app version of Rapid Router using C# and the Unity game engine, and translating the games into other languages

12:24: An overview of the technology stack currently in use for Rapid Router and future games

14:00: Ways to learn more and contribute to the project, including our GitHub profiles for Code for Life, Rapid Router and our upcoming AI game, social media channels (Twitter, Facebook) and translation website.

More about our webinars

You can keep up to date with the webinars by subscribing to our YouTube channel. This article provides clickable links that take you directly to the highlighted part of the video clip.

March 22nd, 2017

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Rapid Router winter scene

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Ocado has employed the services of Santa and the world’s most famous red-nosed reindeer to help students improve their coding skills.

Used by over 1,400 schools and more than 70,000 individual users, Rapid Router is a free, open source game developed by Ocado Technology and ICT teachers that helps Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) pupils understand programming basics and introduces them to the Python programming language.

Rapid Rudolph!

A massive snowstorm has just fallen over the Rapid Router world. Everything is now covered in snowflakes and the ponds are frozen, but Santa is determined as ever to navigate his sled on the windy roads of Rapid Router.

But with Christmas fast approaching, lots of new orders have arrived and the sled is overwhelmed. It’s up to you to save the day and guide Santa and Rudolph to their many destinations using Blockly and Python.

The Santa-powered Rapid Router is available for free now. Have fun!

Get involved

Rapid Router is developed by Code for Life, an initiative started by Ocado to get every child interested in coding. As the world’s largest online-only supermarket, Ocado understands the importance of cultivating the next generation of computer scientists. Just as we have used technology to revolutionise the way people buy groceries, Code for Life will help equip students with the skills needed to revolutionise the industries of tomorrow.

If you’re a teacher, make sure you register on our website now for free access to complete teaching materials, lesson plans and more. Also follow us on Twitter (@CodeForLifeUK) and like us on Facebook (Code for Life) for the latest news and announcements from the Code for Life team!

If you’re developer looking to contribute, check out our Code for Life GitHub portal and Rapid Router GitHub page where you can find more resources and the full source code for Rapid Router, respectively.

Celine Boudier, Code For Life Team Leader

December 14th, 2016

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You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Ocado has employed the services of Santa and the world’s most famous red-nosed reindeer to help students improve their coding skills.

Used by over 1,400 schools and more than 70,000 individual users worldwide, Rapid Router is a free, open source game developed by Ocado Technology and ICT teachers that helps 5-16 year old pupils understand programming basics and introduces them to the Python programming language. The Code for Life

Introducing Rapid Rudolph

A massive snowstorm has just fallen over the Rapid Router world. Everything is now covered in snowflakes and the ponds are frozen, but Santa is determined as ever to navigate his sled on the windy roads of Rapid Router.

But with Christmas fast approaching, lots of new orders have arrived and the sled is overwhelmed. It’s up to you to save the day and guide Santa and Rudolph to their many destinations using Blockly and Python.

We’re very excited to announce this winter-themed, special edition of Rapid Router. In only two years, our Code for Life initiative has grown from a single idea to a network of 70,000 users worldwide. With Rapid Router, anyone can go online and teach themselves to code – you don’t have to be taught in school. Our game is optimised for the classroom and coding clubs but it works for a home schooling audience and self-learners; we definitely see adults regularly using our site too. – Celine Boudier, product owner and Code for Life team leader at Ocado Technology

The Santa-powered Rapid Router game is available for free now at https://www.codeforlife.education/rapidrouter/


For more details and a video demonstration of the game, please visit our blog.

About Code for Life
The Code for Life initiative has been created by Ocado Technology to get every child coding. As the world’s largest online-only supermarket, Ocado understands the importance of cultivating the next generation of computer scientists. Just as Ocado’s technology has revolutionized the way people buy groceries, Code for Life will help equip pupils with the skills needed to revolutionize the industries of tomorrow. For more information about Code for Life, visit http://codeforlife.education

About Ocado
Established in 2000, Ocado is a UK-based company admitted to trading on the London Stock Exchange (OCDO), and is the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailer, operating its own grocery and general merchandise retail businesses under the Ocado.com and other specialist shop banners. For more information about the Ocado Group, visit www.ocadogroup.com

December 14th, 2016

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BBC Microbit

The BBC micro:bit is finally out! Last week I headed over to the University of Hertfordshire to have some fun programming it.

Mike Platt, from the university’s School of Education, was very welcoming and lent us some of the precious micro:bits to play with. There were around 10 teachers from nearby schools, teaching mostly Key Stages 3 to 5, who were very motivated to know more about the possibilities of the computing curriculum, Python, and the micro:bit itself.

Two developers (check André’s github here) were there to help them get started with Python.

The workshop was mostly around how to program a micro:bit with MicroPython, a subset of Python 3 specifically designed for microcontrollers.

The tutorials were quite clear (even if the MicroPython editor on the micro:bit wouldn’t install from Windows…) and the organisers were eager to gather feedback so they could improve them.

I programmed a game selector using the two buttons you can see on the Skull display picture, and two games.

Game 1 was a Sleepy/Wakey game: when the LEDs display a heart, you have to wake it by shaking it. There is an API to help you do this easily:

http://microbit-micropython.readthedocs.org/en/latest/accelerometer.html

When the LEDs display a sleepy face, you have to make the micro:bit face down, all within a given time of course… Mwahahaha! It’s not easy!

Game 2 was a Guitar Hero-like game using the pins. You can attach stuff to the pins, like a speaker. But here I just used those metal pins you can see in the video to manually create a contact. You have to follow the series of numbers appearing on the micro:bit by touching the appropriate pin in time.

Mike and the teachers liked the games and were interested to see how I programmed them, but given the time it was a bit, erm, sketchy!

MicroPython is a subset of Python, there are things that you can’t do but some which are optimised for microcontrollers. However the micro:bit tutorials were around the microbit module and as far as I could find yesterday, easily program event management/callbacks was difficult – you had to create an infinite loop to check for inputs…

The editor lacked autocompletion feature. However, it was really simple to install programs on the micro:bit and then it ran them automatically. You can really program things in a few minutes and see the results on the micro:bit quickly. This is very rewarding.

The ending discussion with the teachers was really interesting as they could voice their concerns over the computing curriculum in general.

They talked about the gaps to bridge simple concepts such as Blockly (you can also program Micro:bit with microsoft block editor by the way!) and full languages such as Python as well as hardware components like the BBC Micro:bit.

They felt teaching students how to think algorithmically was the real challenge, not so much teaching a specific syntax such as Python. They and Mike Platt talked about “tech fads”: a few years ago, people wanted to teach kids JavaScript and now everything is about Python. But thinking logically and algorithmically is a core concept that pupils need to learn and that will help them master pretty much any programming language.

However, most tutorials aiming at helping teachers create lesson plans around computing are more “syntax” oriented: how to display an image, how to write a Hello World on the LEDs, what is the API… Teachers find it more difficult to teach the algorithmics concepts such as loops, if/then/else statements, and to engage students in the long term with these learning goals.

They also wished they had better resources, like kits, to get started on some pieces of tech. For the moment they feel they have to gather all the resources, details and techs themselves to be able to teach, but they don’t have the time.

I talked about Code for Life (our free education initiative) – Mike Platt was already very enthusiastic – and how we had teaching packs, ways to easily bridge the gap between Blockly and Python, and incremental levels to teach algorithmic thinking. I hope some of them will try it!

Celine, Code for Life Team Lead

March 1st, 2016

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Dee the robot character

In the spirit of collaboration, we’ve open-sourced the game and portal of our free Code for Life education initiative.

To give you a bit of background, Code for Life consists of free teaching resources, including lesson plans, videos, and the Rapid Router game.

To play, pupils use basic programming principles to guide a van to its destination, learning as they go.

To begin with they use Blockly, a visual programming language similar to Scratch. The routes and concepts get harder as pupils progress through each level. Later on, the game introduces Python.

Code for Life currently has 36,300 users around the world.

And now we’re hoping that people will be able to develop their skills further by contributing to Code for Life itself.

You can play with game-running JavaScript, Python/Django, animation using SGV and Raphael, and a lot more. We’d like input from all sorts of backgrounds, whether you’re: a programmer looking for a creative outlet; a teacher hoping to shape the resources; a polyglot who’d like to help with translation; or even a pupil putting your skills to the test.

To contribute, head over to GitHub, check out the issue tracker, and get started. There you can suggest new features or assign yourself an issue to develop (you’ll find more info about how to do this on GitHub).

You never know, if your code is impressive enough, you may even land an interview…

Have fun

October 27th, 2015

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Anne Marie Neatham

One of the fantastic consequences of our Code for Life initiative is the interest we attract from STEM and educational charities looking to collaborate. Here’s the lowdown on our visit to the Stemettes.

We celebrated Code for Life’s first anniversary on 1st September, and we’re continuing to develop new strands to the initiative. Our user numbers have reached 30,500 and continue to grow, which means we’re attracting a lot of interest from social enterprises looking to engage on mutual topics.

One such social enterprise is the Stemettes.

Founded by Anne-Marie Imafidon in 2013, the Stemettes were set up to inspire the next generation of girls into technology careers. In just two years, they’ve reached 3,000 young women around the UK via public events, workshops and industry schemes.

In the last week of July, the Stemettes launched their Outbox Incubator, a six week program providing funding and support for 45 young women aged 11-22 who want to start Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) businesses.

Over the course of the six week program, these inspiring young women live and learn together under one roof in the incubator in South London. There they’re joined by women in industry to help them develop skills in running a business, developing a product, getting funding to take their ideas to market, and to work on their personal development.

The two of us went along to speak to this next generation of industry leaders about all the considerations and decisions that need to be made to reach their goals.

We discussed how, in 2,000, 95% of major organisations were located in highly developed economies, but over half will be in emerging economies by 2025. That in 1980 200 million people travelled over a border – that number is now 5 times as much and growing.

The world is changing, and technology will be the big disruptor. Even with all of the changes so far, what is obvious is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, the truly big technologies haven’t even been thought of yet.

So what does that mean for the young women at Outbox Incubator and thousands like them?

The world is their oyster.

In order to take advantage of the opportunities ahead they need to really think about who they are and where they want to go. What do they love doing? What do they find difficult? Who inspires them? Why?

In our talks, we stressed that you must always keep learning: even when you’re 90 you won’t have all the answers. That’s fine. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, it’s also the norm. Embrace it.

We asked each of them to think about what they want to do over the next few years and what they need to do to get there. To think about who can help them, or if there’s training available.

Many of the attendees felt uncomfortable with public speaking. Well, pitching for startup funding is like competing in the Olympics – you have to practise!

It was great to meet the young women who’ve taken a bold first step into the world of technology. Their awareness and dedication was an inspiration in itself, and a reminder that the next generation will have some very impressive women at the helm.

A big thanks to the Stemettes for having us, and good luck to all their graduates!

Anne Marie, Ocado Technology COO, and Bree, Code for Life Product Owner

September 3rd, 2015

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Anne Marie Neatham COO Ocado Technology

On Tuesday the Lords’ Digital Skills Committee released a report, ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’, warning of a digital skills gap and its impact.

For me, there were two points that particularly resonated:

One, that digital literacy should be a core skill taught at school.

Progress has been made in England with the introduction of coding into the curriculum. However, as the report highlighted and as our own research has found, many teachers still lack confidence and experience in this subject.

There are lots of free, easy to use resources from many sources that we need to continue to encourage teachers to use. The fact that our free Code for Life initiative is being used by more than 1K teachers and 16K students, indicates to us that there is a demand for these resources.

Teaching children how to code is important for the future of British industry, but it is even more important for the children so that they:

a) become the future creators of technology rather than just consumers

b) have the ability to drive and lead changes in the many areas of life that are being impacted by technical developments.

Two, if more women chose STEM careers there would be significant economic benefits.

I believe that, to make an impact on the world, digital skills will be increasingly important. It is very important that STEM subjects are encouraged for the many girls who show a real drive to positively change the world around them. We need to highlight clearly to girls and their parents, that being able to code will allow girls to positively impact the lives of people around them, as they can create technology to help improve the lives of others.

It’s perhaps unsurprising how much impact early impressions have here – most of the women in technology at Ocado had very positive influences at home or at school. They realised early that it is not about a ‘job in IT’, but the ability to impact their environment in exciting ways using technology that led them to careers in a technical field.

For more on this particular subject, see my blogs for The Huffington Post.

That this warning about a digital skills gap did not come from industry, is reason to hope that we’ll see a faster pace of improvement. Something that will positively affect all British children, perhaps most particularly girls.

February 19th, 2015

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Dee the robot character

I’m proud to announce the latest update to our Code for Life teaching resource: your pupils can now learn to code in Python using the Rapid Router game.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar, Python is a proper coding language used by companies such as Google and NASA. It’s also simple to write and debug, so it’s perfect as a first language to learn.

Our volunteers have created over 50 new levels to the game, which start by translating concepts from Blockly to Python, and then get more challenging to really put your pupil’s skills to the test.

They’ll not just pick up the language itself but also the importance of correct syntax – something that will give your students a great foundation for studying future languages and continuing with Python.

Log in to Code for Life now to check out the teaching pack and have a go on the new Rapid Router levels.

If you have any questions, as always just drop us an email: codeforlife@ocado.com

Paul Heideman, Technology Development Manager

February 3rd, 2015

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Rewind to November 2013 when, on a cold dark evening, I was entering one of Imperial College’s career fairs. As a third-year Computing student I needed to find a six-month placement, but had no clue where to start looking. Should I go into finance, a bigger tech company or a startup?

The endless possibilities caused my head to spin. So I did what everybody in my situation would do – started browsing. And that’s how I learned about Ocado Technology.

A short chat and a bonus pen later, I found myself in front of my computer, solving problems on Codility as a first step of the recruitment process. After a few stressful days of waiting I finally received the email inviting me to the Assessment Day.

The second part of my application consisted of two tests followed by two interviews. I was thrilled because Ocado seemed like a really exciting place to be. Constant changes and improvements sounded like the excitement factor I was looking for in a job. Plus, Java! I couldn’t dream of a better place to do my placement.

Then the 7th April came. A day full of surprises.

My first day

Having done the induction, I was collected by Mark Bush who showed me to my desk. I was a bit confused about why we couldn’t take the stairs at first, but then it all started making more sense. I was lucky enough to be located on the newly refurbished first floor.

Bean bags, cool Breakout Area and weirdly shaped desks which can be arranged in many different ways were just the beginning though. It was time to meet the team.

But wait, all those people, when they introduced themselves, they claimed to be from different teams… What was going on?

As it turned out, Code For Life is an initiative to help teachers teach computer science in schools. Ocado Technology employees volunteered their free time to develop a game that would show children the basics of programming. For a student like me it was the coolest project to work on.

Children trying Code for Life

Everything sounded like a dream until we started talking technology. I was told the application was going to be a Django web app with front-end written in JavaScript. Wait, what? Isn’t Django a framework for Python? Are you sure you got the right intern? Where’s the Java I kept hearing about during my interviews?

Don’t get me wrong, I have done a bit of Python before. But I felt that in contrast to my experience in Java, there wasn’t much I could offer the team. However, fear doubles all. Thanks to my hard work and my teammates’ amazing patience (thank you all, you know who you are), I soon found myself up to speed with Python and Django.

The project progresses

When I first joined, Code For Life only consisted of the game with one, hard-coded level. It’s amazing to look at the progress we made over those six months. Now it’s a whole portal, offering teaching resources, progress tracking and a game, Rapid Router, introducing programming to children at Key Stage 1 and 2.

But what is Rapid Router exactly? To put it simply, a game intended to teach children programming. In the game, you use Blockly – a visual programming language – to get the van or a character from the origin to the destination.


Using blocks is a nice introduction for the young ones, who haven’t encountered real code before. The app has a range of challenging levels which increase in difficulty as children progress. But that’s not all.

If the students feel up for something more demanding, or simply want to show their creative side, they can go to Level Editor and make their own map. They can then share their designs with other classmates to play or copy and change.

Once users become really good at creating programs, we slowly help them to shift to Python. At first, they create Blockly algorithms and then convert them to Python. This teaches them the basic Python syntax. Having learnt the grammar, they move on to writing programs themselves.

So, what did I learn?

Now, fast forward back to October, my internship has just ended. Time to look back at what I got out of this experience.

First of all, a chance to participate in all stages of designing and creating the product. It’s amazing to be involved in shaping of the whole project and be able to influence major decisions around it. Moreover, I had a great opportunity to develop my Python skills.

On a more personal ground, I have gained more self-confidence. Sometimes the team is looking for a way to solve a problem they have encountered and your idea, yes your idea, is the most optimal. It is important to spot a good solution and all its advantages over the alternatives.

Last but not least, satisfaction. Although I didn’t get a chance to experience the full Scrum process, I was able to develop a product that has a huge potential to change the way young minds are formed – not something every intern has an opportunity to do.

Overall, I loved every minute I spent at Ocado Technology, working on the Code For Life initiative. An interesting project and amazing people to work with seems like a recipe for a great internship.

I would definitely recommend Ocado Technology to anybody who likes taking up exciting challenges.

January 7th, 2015

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