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by Miranda Dobson & Isaac Blanc
Early exposure to STEM helps young people better understand the world they live in and encourages them to pursue careers in science and engineering. The lack of resources available to many schools makes organising these activities challenging, so we thought we would do something about it.
So CDP’s team of three Year-In-Industry (YINI) students ran two morning workshops at Swavesey Primary School, where we introduced year 5 students to engineering. This also contributed to our application for the Platinum Leader Industrial Cadet Award, a scheme backed by Prince Charles. This is how the workshops went.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to think long for an example of engineering. The students we taught had been studying the Vikings, so a case study presented itself. The problem: crossing the North Sea to invade Britain. The solution: well, that would be for the students to work out.
We began the workshop by asking the class what they might need to do to make a ‘good’ boat. Working in teams, the students brainstormed design specifications and set about building some initial models. For half an hour, the students laboured away – folding the cardboard nets we had made into shape, applying layer upon layer of duct tape, colouring fearsome shields - and then it was time to test their creations. ‘The North Sea’, it turned out, was actually a large plastic container filled with water. However, in no way did this dullen the students’ enthusiasm, and they cheered as we stacked 100g masses into their model boats to test the load bearing ability.
After testing all the boats, we asked the students to reflect on their first attempts and consider how to improve their designs. One student noticed that the deeper boats had been able to hold more weight before sinking, while another pointed out that boats with pointy ends might be able to move through the sea more quickly. We talked through some slides on buoyancy, streamlining and stability, which helped the students understand their observations and gave them more confidence in their design choices.
Another round of boat building followed this discussion. This time, we gave the students more complex nets, which they folded into boats with streamlined profiles and v-shaped hulls. We were particularly impressed by innovative additions made by the students. One group built a boat with outriggers, another considered the need to steer and therefore designed a rudder. Throughout the morning, we asked the students to explain their designs to us. “What does this bit do?”, “Why is that bit designed like that?”, “How do you think you could improve on that bit?”
The workshop ended in a final showdown. With some impressive entries, most boats could hold a few kilos of weight. One team even built a catamaran, which held 5kg (despite having breached a design constraint on the first test)!
Throughout the workshop, we were impressed by the students’ enthusiasm, ingenuity and, in some cases, witty interpretations of the design brief. One group built a model submarine, arguing that it couldn’t fail the buoyancy test, even if it sank, because submarines are supposed to sink.
“The children thoroughly enjoyed the visit” said Anna Norden, Headteacher at Swavesey Primary School, “learning that not only can engineering be fun, but that it includes many different aspects of the skills they are developing in real life situations”.
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