Why provide STEM opportunities?

Collage of teams taking part in F1 in Schools and EEP Robotics Challenge

Over the past three years, I have facilitated different STEM opportunities for students in the schools I have taught at, as part of the science faculty extracurricular activities. I had already been teaching science for four years before applying myself to these new challenges, but am so glad that I did and would urge any teachers interested in STEM subjects to do the same.

Not only has it helped me to hone my organisation, leadership and communication skills, but has given me the privileged position of being on a journey of discovery with all the students involved. The reward from taking part in STEM activities greatly outweighs the work involved in making them happen. It has opened learning opportunities for students that they would not normally have access to in the classroom and enabled them to access industry standard software and specialised machinery that day-to-day teaching cannot facilitate.

This year has bought great success to the students of Parkside School in both the F1 in Schools Competition and Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge both run by myself with the help of Mr Mangham, a technology teacher with a background in engineering.

Racing ahead with the F1 in Schools Competition

Cars involved in the F1 in Schools STEM competition

The F1 in Schools Competition involved students creating a team brand, designing a model F1 car, manufacturing their car, racing the car manufactured and presenting their designs in a verbal presentation and written portfolio.

This was the first year I had facilitated this competition at my school and was anxious as to how the students would respond to it. We submitted three entry tier teams giving a total 13 students involved from Years 7 to 9 and I managed to secure a two-day course at the National STEM Learning Centre in York, which gave me all the training I needed to work with the students competently. It also enabled me to make a network of like-minded teachers and staff at the Centre to call upon for support if I needed it.

The students researched real issues surrounding F1 aerodynamics and ways to streamline cars. They had to approach local companies to secure their own sponsorship and received training on how to use the industry standard computer aided design (CAD) software package Fusion 360, to design and then manufacture their cars. Some students then used the same software package to go onto design their own items to manufacture with 3D printers, which they were not able to do before taking part in this STEM competition.

"I managed to secure a two-day course at the National STEM Learning Centre in York, which gave me all the training I needed to work with the students competently. It also enabled me to make a network of like-minded teachers and staff at the Centre to call upon for support if I needed it."

The confidence in all the students involved massively increased to the point that students, known to be shy and reserved, were giving public presentations because they were so confident in their abilities.

As a result of the student’s dedication and hard work, Team Hive was announced as second place in the entry tier regional competition at Bolton University, with Team Energy also having the fastest car on the track. This result has made them even more determined to secure pole position for the 2020 competition but this time in the Development tier.

The rise of the robots

Team of students entering the EEP Robotics Challenge

The Tomorrow’s Engineers EEP Robotics Challenge is a very different STEM competition, this time enabling the students to master their own EV3 Lego Mindstorm creation, to carry out a series of given tasks on a challenge mat.

This year’s theme was 100 years of the RAF and saw the students collecting engineers, humanitarian aid, and aircraft, deploying a car to work and climbing a ramp. Students were given five minutes to complete as many of the tasks as they could, with each task completed scoring varying points. The students had a research task to carry out prior to the regional competition, which they presented to RAF staff at RAF Scampton, home of the Red Arrows.

Their engineering skills were tested through the design of their challenge mat and speed robots and again the team presented their designs verbally to the judges. The final aspect of the challenge is a teamwork exercise that they complete on site without any preparation time.

"The elation of the students is a memory I will never forget and the feeling of success achieved by competing is one the students will never forget."

The research project the students chose to complete looked into the possible use of robots to help with humanitarian aid. As part of their research, the group visited a local Technical Rescue Unit at Cleckheaton Fire Station to speak to the people who deliver aid in accidents or large-scale incidents. From the interview with Watch Commander Darren Haley, the students then designed a robot that was equipped to deal with a large array of scenarios and would help prevent injury or even death to aid workers.

At the regional competition, students had a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the Red Arrows team, from the pilots to the engineers, and watched them practice their air display from the plane hangers. Team Brute Force from Parkside were the regional winners on the day and were also given an award for the fastest speed robot and best research project. This secured them a place at the national final held at the NEC, Birmingham during the Big Bang Fair.

Over 500 schools had taken part in the competition nationally, with 50 of them securing a place for the national final. The team wowed the judges with their design presentation and were awarded the National Robot Design award, which is one of only seven national awards.

The elation of the students is a memory I will never forget and the feeling of success achieved by competing is one the students will never forget.

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