Life-saving coding with Fifi the llama

By Matt Hewlett, Community and Education Lead at digit<all> 

The digit<all> charity, which provides creative computing training for teachers and organises workshops and enrichment camps for young people both in school and in the community, has put together a brand new resource for UK schools and of course anyone else who wishes to use it for #CodeWeek. The game, called ‘The Adventures of Fifi, the Life-Saving Llama’, is based on a real life llama at Reading University.

The game is a coding activity about how antibodies are used to create vaccines, and involves Fifi flying around the globe, visiting all the continents and saving the population with vaccines. digit<all> worked alongside an institute doing research in this area, so the activity brings together science, computer science and geography all in one place. This game naturally excited our interest, and so we spoke with digit<all> CEO and EU Code Week Ambassador, Peter Marshman to find out more.  

An interview with him can be found below. 

What are the origins of the game and the reason behind it? 

The game provides an opportunity to explore coding through cross-curricular approaches including topics relevant to biology and geography as well as computing. It’s important for children to have real role models and this activity is based on a real llama living in Berkshire, UK, at the University of Reading. Fifi has undergone experiments, involving the removal of a small blood sample to access antibodies which had shown positive potential in early coronavirus trials. We worked alongside the Rosalind Franklin Institute to expand this story to showcase the importance of llamas through this innovative editable game where you can help Fifi save the world from viruses. 

How does the game work? 

Fifi starts in the middle of the world map and has to visit a special landmark from six of the continents to reduce the rising infections. The aim of the game is to work out, through decomposition, which continents have a higher rate of infection and to vaccinate those first, while leaving time to vaccinate other countries with lesser rates later. It allows children to have a trial and error approach, use and develop their problem solving skills, and use computational thinking.  

There are three additional challenges to the game: 

  1. Create a real-time indicator of global infections using multiple addition blocks (sequence);
  2. Create a timer to increase the excitement of playing the game (repetition);
  3. Changing costumes when Fifi visits a different landmark (selection). 

Why are Code Week and activities such as Fifi’s adventure necessary and important? 

It’s important for young people to have ‘hook’ to gain the confidence and the self-efficacy to undertake coding. Having a superhero like Fifi is a great way of doing this. Of course, there is the wider context of the need for everyone to appreciate all the creatures that live on our Earth: with the recent pandemic, children have been affected significantly and this coding activity provides a light and accessible way of understanding the science behind creating vaccines whilst enjoying coding. 

What events will be happening surrounding the activity and this year’s edition of EU Code Week in the UK and how can people participate or replicate it? 

This activity is open to everyone (we wish we had time to get the resources translated into other languages). The resource has been made available through a range of networks in the UK including teaching hubs, multi-academy trusts and community groups, and to teachers through social media. Each school that uses the resources can then upload their engagement with Code Week and pin their activity to the map. The charity digit<all> is also providing face-to-face workshops for schools that would like volunteers from the charity to deliver the workshop in their school.