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A robot called Dave enthuses budding engineers

Published: Jun 27, 2014 3 min read

Gemma Taylor

Technology CPD Lead

National STEM Learning Centre

This week’s National Women in Engineering Day has personal meaning, as engineering was the gateway through which I left home, went to university, made new friends, had new experiences, and ultimately learned that it was ok to be a girl, and enjoy making, breaking and finding out how things work.

As an engineer, and now in my career as a secondary school engineering teacher, I have the privilege and the challenge, of ensuring that the message of today is an everyday experience for the girls in my school. 

Katie, one of my Year 9 engineering students said:

“Engineering is great. I have always loved technology and making things in engineering teaches me more about this topic. It is amazing. Creating products that work is the greatest feeling ever. I am one of three girls in our engineering class and it is wonderful.”

With the current skills shortage in engineering and the wider STEM careers, it has never been more important for students to see apprentices, graduates and professionals working in industry. Whether it is face to face, a company led project, a factory tour, a talk from a visiting speaker, via social media or Skype, these experiences are readily accessible to students in our classrooms. With so much time being dedicated to assessments, marking, and ensuring the outcomes of students, it would be forgivable for teachers to let these experiences slip by. However the difference it makes to students like Katie, could be the catalyst to become tomorrow’s future engineer.

One of the many things we are doing at the National Science Learning Centre is developing ways to help teachers and industry work more closely together. This new scheme is called TIPS (Teacher Industrial Partner' Scheme). We’re delighted to be working with CrossRail as one of our first partners. TIPS will benefit teachers by increasing their knowledge about STEM industries, and enable them to draw on authentic industrial examples to contextualise learning in the classroom. With initiatives such as this we’re aiming to help girls such as the ‘Katies’ in my class (and boys too!) continue with their enthusiasm for engineering at university and out into the wider world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching girls engineering, it’s that nothing engages students more than healthy competition…and a robot called Dave. For the third consecutive year I recently took a group of students to School’s Robot Wars at Bradford University. This year’s robot is the first to be designed and constructed with girls on the team, and unsurprisingly, it’s been the most successful robot we have ever built.

A different Katie (how confusing!) reported:

“We were given a speed controller and car batteries to control the motors which drove the robot forward and backwards. It was brilliant to make Dave work and in the end he came third which was better than our school had done in any other years. The trip out was awesome and engineering is the best subject ever!”

National Women in Engineering day shines a light on female engineers across the UK, inspiring young girls to think of engineering as a career that is not only open to them, but is also a career in which they can excel. I thoroughly support it!