Off to a flying start: the benefits of taking part in STEM competitions

UK Quadcopter Competition

Neil Wright is a design and technology teacher at William Far School in Welton, Lincolnshire. For the first time last year, he offered Year 9 students the opportunity to take part in a hands-on STEM competition. We chatted to Neil about his experience of getting involved and the impact this has had on his students.

In 2018 for the first time, we offered our Year 9 students the opportunity to take part in the Raytheon Quadcopter competition. This competition challenges young people to build a fully functioning, four-bladed, multi-rotor, remotely piloted air system - commonly known as a quadcopter.

To start with we faced a lack of interest before we managed to scrape two small teams together (mainly from my tutor group). Initially, we had zero female uptake with one joining later on.

Despite this, both our teams really enjoyed it, fed by a combination of great kit and support from Raytheon and the desire to succeed when the competition really got going, leading to a growth in personal interest. However, one team shone and we won the regional finals in Lincoln before going on to come third in the Nationals in Birmingham, December 2018.

The legacy lives on

Both teams that entered continue in their own time - just because they enjoy it and have got into 3D printing their own plastic parts, which obviously has a knock-on with Computer Aided Design (CAD) skills as well as increasing drone performance through respecifying, rebuilding and raising sponsorship to fund their work now their Raytheon backing has ended. This has also had a strong positive effect on team members with SEND and confidence issues.

Entrant levels for this year’s competition were high and had to be whittled down to meet our team quota. What is fantastic to see is the number of girls now wanting to get involved - the female uptake has increased to 50%.

We have just started our build training for the 2019-2020 competition and all have great ideas to progress and are chomping at the bit to get flying.

In times when teaching is hard and budgets are tight, things like this make all the difference.

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