Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers

On Wednesday 7th March my colleague, Imogen, and I attended an event aimed at encouraging primary school children to be involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and to consider a career in engineering. The event was held at the University of the West of England and is part of a project being run by the university’s Department of Education and Childhood and the Department of Engineering, Design and Mathematics. The Exhibition and Conference Centre played host to 380 primary school children from nine schools from Bristol and South Gloucestershire for the morning.

There was a huge range of activities and demonstrations for the children to engage with, ranging from building bridges using large foam blocks and flying drones to exploring infrared temperature sensors. The children visited the different activities in groups of around 10 and rotated throughout the morning. All of the activities on offer gave the children a flavour of the many different aspects to a career in engineering.

Only 5% of primary school teachers have a science-related degree[1], and research has found that children, especially girls, develop their attitude towards STEM as a possible career before the age of 11[2] – facts like these form the central argument for why events like this are being run.

Robotics in particular has been identified as being effective in STEM teaching, as it enforces the physical concepts of engineering and technology and helps to remove some of the abstractness of mathematics and science[3]. To enforce this point, we brought the robotic ‘Twizy’ vehicle to the event and allowed the children to explore the vehicle.

The ‘Twizy’ (pictured below) is a passenger vehicle manufactured by Renault, which has been adapted by one of the VENTURER partners, Bristol Robotics Laboratory, to be remotely controlled. The Twizy can operate in standard controlled mode and can also be operated using a handheld controller.

When the children were exploring the Twizy, we initiated discussions about Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) by asking them questions regarding their trust in driverless technology, when they think CAV technology will be widely available and what they think some of the barriers to CAV adoption might be. Broadly the children were very trusting when thinking about operating a driverless vehicle, but were slightly less trusting of the technology from the perspective of a cyclist or pedestrian. Some great discussions were taking place, with themes like responsbility for crashes and the appropriateness of driving tests being talked about, which are discussion points being discussed by CAV experts.

STEM outreach and primary school engagement is an important activity for pioneering and innovative industry projects to undertake. Allowing these children to see industry-leading technology being tested and trialled in Bristol and South Gloucestershire should help to inspire them to work on similar projects in the future. Projects like VENTURER, which work alongside academic partners, should exploit their progressive credentials to encourage children to go into engineering. This event allowed VENTURER to engage with Bristol’s future professionals and hopefully has opened their eyes to the possibility of a career in the CAV industry.

 

Bella Slawin – Atkins

 

[1] Royal Academy of Engineering 2016 https://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/uk-stem-education-landscape

[2] Fogg-Rogers et al., 2017 http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/29111/1/Fogg-Rogers%202016%20Paired%20Peer%20Learning%20through%20Engineering%20Education%20Outreach.pdf

[3] Kim et al., 2015 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jiangmei_Yuan/publication/283097049_Robotics_to_Promote_Elementary_Education_Pre-service_Teachers’_STEM_Engagement_Learning_and_Teaching/links/5787986208aedc252a935ea7/Robotics-to-Promote-Elementary-Education-Pre-service-Teachers-STEM-Engagement-Learning-and-Teaching.pdf