Having recently joined the STEM Ambassadors network, this was our first assignment. The STEMNEt programme is a national movement which has volunteers from business and industry on its books as STEM Ambassadors. The Ambassadors volunteer to help out in schools when they are running STEM-related days or activities. The benefits are mutual; the schools receive assistance from local ‘experts’ (adding expert input into the day whilst minimising internal cover) whilst the volunteers gain experience of working with schoolchildren and promoting STEM as an area of future consideration in terms of education and career-choice. The programme also helps employers of the volunteers fulfil CPR responsibilities. It goes without saying that all volunteers are completely vetted through a full DBS disclosure process.
The day began with an introduction to the challenge and a brief of the requirements and the skills which would be required. The emphasis was very heavily on the importance of working as a team. Each team then decided on job roles, which included Manager, Finance Controller and Design, Production and Marketing sub-teams. It was then straight into the challenge.The day was run by MakeItUk who are an educational arm of the Manufacturing Institute. The focus of the challenge was for ten teams of Year8 students, plus a teacher team, to design, finance, market and pitch a prototype UnManned Emergency Response Vehicle (UMERV).
It has to be said at this point that the students, over 80 year 8s, at Rushey Mead School were fabulous throughout the day and an absolute credit to the school. The way they approached the challenge from start to finish was a superb example of teamwork and creativity in what was for most out of their comfort-zones.
Of course most teams dived straight in to begin building a prototype model, only to come up against problems very quickly. A little bit of well-placed and timed questioning then led them to realise that their prototype had to first be designed on paper, and then fully-costed (each team had a kit-bag with the cost of each part itemised, and a strict budget to work to).
The timing of the intervention was crucial; they had to go wrong first, then be ‘guided’ towards a fresh approach in order to maximise their learning.
Once the designs had been finalised an agreed, the building began in earnest whilst the marketing teams began creating a brand including logo and slogan, and publicity materials. Meanwhile the Finance Controllers spent much energy in making themselves thoroughly unpopular by reining in the more extravagant ideas due to cost!!
Once the prototypes had been completed they had to negotiate a magnetic minefield using teamwork and communication, and then back to the teams to amend and finalise the prototypes.
The final task was the pitch to a panel of us ‘dragons’ and the fielding of some of our tough questions. The mix was wide; weaker products backed by a strong pitch against excellent prototypes with a pitch which missed off crucial aspects such as cost, financial projections and target market.
In the end, although their was a clear winning team and two outstanding individual prizes, the real winners were the students’ learning and the promotion of STEM as an area of future focus. It was evident that many students who had never before thought off STEM as something that would interest them had been surprised by how they had learnt and how much an interest had been sparked. Perhaps more importantly, every youngster left with a much better understanding of the many different components which go into the process of taking any kind of product from an idea to the shelf.
The day was brilliantly engaging and superbly organised from start to finish by both the Rushey Mead School staff and the MakeItUK Team.
It is thoroughly recommended that anyone with even a passing interest in education and STEM should consider becoming a STEM Ambassador and find out more about the programme here on theSTEMNet website. Also, any schools who would like to run one of these days would also be strongly advised to have a look at the websites and get in touch with STEM Net to find out details of what can be offered in their area – the students really do benefit through learning new skills in a pressured and ‘real-world’ production and manufacturing environment. There are also activities on offer relating to science, engineering and maths.