Haggis, Nippers and Talent

How times have changed, 10 years ago we were trying to convince 13 Primary schools in the North of England that Primary Engineer could be a valid and important part of their school curriculum.

How times have changed, 10 years ago we were trying to convince 13 Primary schools in the North of England that Primary Engineer could be a valid and important part of their school curriculum. 5 years ago we landed in Scotland asking them to do the same but from a standing start of zero schools. Last week we held two Primary Engineer Regional Finals in Rosyth and Glasgow and presented awards at the Scottish Engineering Special Leaders Award Exhibition recognising that over 20,000 children had in some way participated in one of the schemes over the last academic year.

It is a remarkable change of affairs and Scotland is a very interesting case. It’s understanding that in Scotland engineering is important is reflected in its curriculum, its heritage and its government support – in Scotland we are funded by Skills Development Scotland to offer our Master’s Level course in Engineering STEM Learning to teachers. Validated by the General Teaching Council for Scotland as a Professional Recognition Programme, it forms part of the GTCS development of teachers to engage in action research at a Master’s level. We are now in the process of having that course accredited by the University of Strathclyde as a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.

So what of the ‘Nippers and Talent’? Giving young children the opportunity not only to experience engineering ways of thinking in the classroom – problem solving, testing, evaluating and making, but to work with and speak to engineers provides a real-world context and is inspirational, not just for the children in general but I would also say for the engineers as well.

There is a real sense of legacy around the engineer’s engagement. After these recent events the conversations roll towards the displaying of photos and wondering how long it will be before an apprentice or graduate walks on site who could point to the photo and say ‘that was me!’?

The Scottish Engineering Special Leaders Award is now spreading to run across the UK; we will have regional versions of the competitions around Burnley, the North East, London and the South of England later this year. This week for the fourth year running we held the Scottish Engineering Special Leaders Award. If you ever need cheering up, actually I mean laughing till you cry, or just having your faith restored in humanity this is the event for you – here we see the inventiveness, ingenuity and creativity of children combined with an engineer’s practicality. These children will have interviewed an engineer about their work and are required to say who that engineer was and which company they work for. The interviews allow children to investigate and find out about engineering first hand and are often inspired by the engineer they have spoken to.

The competition challenges children to identify a problem and are then tasked to draw and describe a solution. Surprisingly, (or not) we do not see money making machines that will keep them rich, or machines to keep or make them perpetually young and beautiful. Instead we see inventions designed to help people; caring, sensitive, thoughtful ideas that will make people’s lives better. Of course you get some that make you wonder about the thought process involved but you will have to join us at the next exhibition to see those!

Last year, Doosan Babcock choose the overall winner, a design by Primary pupil Aidan McCann who, after watching his gran struggle to lift her shopping out of the trolley and into the boot of her car decided to invent an adjustable height shopping trolley – The Shopping Trolley for the Elderly! In collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, a group of final year Mechanical Engineering students chose Aiden’s design as their final year project, building a prototype and blogging and vlogging the design and build journey. I’m not sure if there was a dry eye in the house when they unveiled it in front of him in the prestigious setting of the Barony Hall in Glasgow but there was an audible wow and spontaneous applause.

In the space of a decade we are no longer having to persuade schools either in Scotland or in England that engineering has a place in the curriculum, in fact many schools we have worked with are making it the focus of their curriculum. Primary schools are recognising the impact this way of engaging pupils can have. Rolling this up into Secondary schools is going to be the next big challenge – but then nobody thought we could do it in Primary schools a decade ago either!