Singing Canaries: Pupil Voice in a Climate Emergency


It's over 30 years since canary birds where replaced by hand-held digital devices to detect harmful gases, but the cautionary metaphor of 'a canary in a coal mine' is still relevant today according to a latest project driven through pupil voice.

The use of caged birds, to alert miners to the invisible dangers of gases such as carbon monoxide, has been a theme for discussion with children about the effects of air pollution today. That's led them to investigating the impact on humans and nature as cities around the UK declare climate emergencies, and the group has created their own caged bird to convey thoughts about action.

Event-driven programming

  1. Create a flock of pom-pom birds
  2. Design an algorithm to drive the servos 180 degrees and turn the canary on the perch

At which level of PM2.5 or PM10 will the canary move on its perch to signal danger?

pom pom canary

Data quandary

Using particulate matter data collected from one of their own projects, the children looked at guidelines from DEFRA, the WHO and local council to learn more about targets and levels.

What caused confusion for some of the group was to see target levels of air quality still with an amount of pollution above zero.

What level would you suggest starts being a danger to our health?

collage of craft canary birds

Algorithmic design

What's emerged is a real and wicked problem to solve and be communicated through this data storytelling project.

The immediate problem is to finalise the script with a number that is the level of pollution that will trigger the canary to twist on the perch in the cage. Once that's decided, they'll share their work through GitHub. screenshot github air quality code

Pupil voice

  • Are we now the modern canaries in a polluted world?
  • Do we fully understand the impact of pollution on our own health?
  • What steps can we ALL take to improve the air that we breathe?

Maker box:

  • Triot board
  • Particulate matter sensors
  • GPS module
  • 180 degrees servo motors

HACKcampUK: New project supported by The Royal Academy of Engineering


We're delighted to be collaborating with Edge Hill University, Wigan STEAM and Mako Create on a new Royal Academy of Engineering funded project giving children the opportunity to design the future and protect the planet with careers in engineering.

Schoolchildren across the North of England will soon be able to experience the future with a series of pop up events hosted by engineering professionals as part of a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious Project.

HACKcampUK is an innovative and exciting project designed to connect children to careers in engineering and to play a part in shaping change in a rapidly evolving world. The project is being delivered as part of the This Is Engineering programme and is designed to inspire the next generation of innovators, inventors and problem solvers.

The events will include opportunities for children aged 10 – 14, and any interested adults working with children, to experience engineering during hand on workshops hosted by engineers working in environmental, computing, chemical, civil, structural and medical engineering.

For more details click here and get in touch about proposed activities by emailing us at

Making sense of air quality in Roundhay Park: Workshop and science walk for families during #LeedsDigi19

The Digital Festival was a perfect opportunity to announce our moonshot of 350 air quality projects on a crowd sourced map during 2019, adding these new projects to earlier activities and nudging towards our target.

moonshot ambition of 350 air quality projects on a crowd sourced map in 2019

The workshop for families during Leeds Digital Festival was focused around teams exploring some of the science behind air quality and programming their own air quality monitoring device to test during a walk in Roundhay Park.

It was also a chance to hear about pollution in the world today through the eyes of 'Nicholas and his incredible eyesight' - a great book from Sotirios Papathanasiou.

family working around laptop

The aim of the event was a hands-on and active introduction to air quality and the internet of things for everyone, sharing current activities and monitoring programmes across the city region. The DEFRA map below showing 3 air quality monitoring stations in Leeds was of particular interest, raising questions and discussion about how more community readings can support individual decision making about healthier walks to school and work.

defra map showing 3 air quality monitoring stations in leeds

There's another difference as a programmer with our Internet of Curious Things workshops, and that's giving digital makers themselves a choice of algorithmic design.

Unlike the DEFRA monitoring stations that take a reading every hour, our families wanted to analyse more frequent measures of PM2.5 and PM10 in the air around them as they walked around the park. Final scripts included the trigger to collect and save data every 10 seconds.

2 girls coding air quality project around a laptop

The teams constructed and programmed an outdoor air quality monitoring device and put the sensors through their digital paces around the park. Once back at the Education Centre, data science became the focus as families analysed the data collected and started to think about what it means and how it can help to inform changes to improve health and wellbeing.

family 2 working around laptop

We explored the different measures of air quality, including particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, alongside digital tools such as GPS to make more sense and changes about the quality of air that we breathe.

sensor and iot device

Tech list:

  1. GPS sensor available from Farnell
  2. Sensors attached to a TRIOT board but you could use a Raspberry Pi
  3. ]GitHub account for the Foundation for Digital Creativity]( has the files used for air quality.
  4. Download Mu Editor

Wearables on the move: Learning walks to improve health and the quality of air that we breathe

Claire's university rucksack has generated a bit of interest this academic year, but it's the projects that it's been holding since Christmas that we're ready to share.

Air quality sensors added to the Internet of Curious Things learning programme have added another dimension to real world relevance and linking to local and global problems.

Our workshop for families during the Leeds Digital Festival was a chance for everyone to participate in building digital projects with an introduction to data science as we mapped the location information and level of particulate matter after a walk in the park. Groups used the TRIOT board to collect data and share through Open Maps, showing different routes from another activity with Moortown Living Streets and their mapping of particulate matter below:

collage of air quality monitoring around Moortown in leeds

map of moortown with air quality tracking

However mapping healthier routes to campus, and evidencing changes in data from switching to off-road routes, has been part of another on-going wellbeing project. When data privacy with GPS tracking got personal, we looked towards another application to view live air quality data instantly on a wearable device.

wearable device collecting air quality data

Working with the Living Streets Moortown team has given another focus to community and school engagement programmes as we've supported their intention to encourage more people to walk to school.

This latest iteration supports decision making on those routes to school to monitor effects of proximity to the road, waiting as a pedestrian for a green light to cross the road or the impact on particulate matter readings if you find yourself close to an idling car.

Like us, they sometimes want to see the latest data at a glance and make a data-driven decision on the move.

Community Data Science: Mapping air quality and making decisions based on health

The Making Sense of Air Quality workshop for families during Leeds Digital Festival included time to explore the data collected with a mapping activity to build a digital story.

outdoor sensor monitoring

Transferring air quality and GPS data, collected on a walk around Roundhay Park, to Open Street Map gave families an opportunity to explore their route and question changes in readings along the way.

child 2 looking at laptop screen showing mapping of air quality data

The GPS tracking is accurate enough to show movements around the playground close to Waterloo Lake and also to trigger conversations around the causes of spikes in particulate matter (PM 2.5 and 10). For some, it seemed like proximity of moving traffic might have been part of that data story, leading to further discussion about the benefits of images alongside future tracking and analysing of collected data.

child 3 looking at laptop screen showing mapping of air quality data

map 2 showing air quality data

We'll share the link to the online map that will be populated with ongoing citizen science projects, but in the meantime you'll be able to identify the route from these 2 images at different scale.

digital project at children's playground

The first algorithm draws a simple red, amber or green dot on the map depending on the data measured, according to DEFRA guidelines and health bandings.

map showing air quality data

Planned workshops in the programme will dig deeper into mapping and machine learning possibilities and give participants the chance to personalise visualisations and notifications.

Tech list:

  1. GPS sensor available from Farnell
  2. Sensors attached to a TRIOT board but you could use a Raspberry Pi
  3. GitHub account for the Foundation for Digital Creativity has the files used for air quality.
  4. Download Mu Editor

2019: New activities with The Internet of Curious Things

Exciting news!

We're delighted to receive another grant from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), supporting us to extend the Internet of Curious Things programme into more schools during 2019.

The Engineering Education Grant Scheme (EEGS) aims to engage young people aged 5-19 in learning about engineering and to develop the professional skills of those involved in supporting Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning and careers awareness.

Peter Finegold, Head of Education and Skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The Internet of Curious Things project is a fantastic example of the kind of projects the EEGS scheme aims to promote. The UK is facing a critical engineering skills shortage and showing young people how creative and exciting engineering can be is a key way of inspiring the engineers of tomorrow.”

David Lakin, Head of Education at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said:

“In order to tackle the engineering skills gap we need more graduates and apprentices to enter the profession, and this can only happen if more school-age children – girls as well as boys – are attracted to, and choose to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects.

The IET is investing considerable resource in EEGS to support vital projects like The Internet of Curious Things, which highlight the exciting, creative and rewarding world of engineering careers to young people.”


If you'd like to find out more about the new programme, and see how we can work together to 'inspire an engineer', REGISTER YOUR INTEREST ON THIS LINK.

In the meantime, here's some feedback from some of the young people that engineered new solutions this year:

word cloud of children's responses to a digital workshop

The Engineering Education Grant Scheme (EEGS) provides support for UK based educational projects that increase engineering knowledge in young people.

We're grateful to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in supporting us to collaborate with more schools and teachers next year.

institute of engineering and technology logo

institute of mechanical engineers logo

Developing digital talent in the curriculum for a future with Industry 4.0

Modern engineering needs data to validate and influence design decisions.

Commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 signposts the use of sensors with data collection and analytics to bring efficiencies and inform decision making.

This year we’ve supported a number of organisations to understand how connectivity can support their vision for digital transformation.

With further developments to our Internet of Curious Things programme, it’s also been an exciting time to take digital innovations from the Grand Challenges into the curriculum for real world learning scenarios in schools.

Progression of learning, purpose and innovation are the constants that we add into each programme and bringing in smart sensors for data collection is applicable across each ‘wicked problem’ that we present to students.

Here’s one example taken from the This Girl Codes programme of activities delivered with Junction Arts. The theme of collecting and acting on data was at the heart of co-design with creative computing.

Produced by Cora Glasser, the video captures the creative engagement from learning activities across KS2, KS3 and community events over a year in rural Derbyshire.

With the finale as a ‘Data-Driven Interactive Light Night’, connecting Bolsover Castle with the local community, the heritage backdrop of the C17th estate provided insights into what a smart future with Industry 4.0 can look like.

#TechWomen100 winner

Wonderful news to start another exciting week.

One of our co-founders, Claire, has been announced as a #TechWomen100 winner. We're delighted that she's been included in this list of emerging talent as we continue to support an increase in the digital talent pipeline.

Congratulations to every talented #womenintech on this list of brilliant role models.

Increasing participation and diversity in digital careers

We recognise how diversity in tech can drive change and innovation and are proud to support the Tech She Can Charter from PWC.

Our education programmes ignite inspiration and boost self-efficacy to address the gender imbalance in tech and we’re dedicated to supporting a talented pipeline of digitally-literate and creative learners. Read more about the programme and our pledge here.

Digital making leading to healthy outcomes

We've linked digital making projects in schools, and with community groups, to develop a new citizen science programme specifically focused on improving air quality.

Being a parent, and part of ClientEarth's Clean Air Parents' Network, gave an opportunity recently to share an example of a local project that we've been progressing with Living Streets Moortown.

Great to hear positive feedback from that wider audience at The Houses of Parliament about the significance and capacity for community collected data to drive healthy changes. Also encouraging to meet and have the support of local MP Fabian Hamilton to share the message about the impact of empowering groups through digital making.

Look out for 'Science Walk' an event taking place in Roundhay Park during the Leeds Digital Festival.

We'll share the link for registration in the new year, when teams will join us to build an air quality monitoring station, collect data during an outdoor walk in the park and return to learn more about interpreting those results.

Find out more about the cross-party Parliamentary Reception hosted by Client Earth here.

Further details about our plans with the citizen science project in Leeds can be found in this piece:

headline about air pollution from the yorkshire post

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