Want to grow STEM enthusiasm in your school? Each year, BP, the Science Museum and STEM Learning come together to find the next generation of engineers and scientists through the Ultimate STEM Challenge. Here’s how you can take part.
Aimed at students aged 11-14, the Ultimate STEM Challenge is designed to help engage young people in STEM subjects by developing their creativity, problem-solving and employability skills through tackling real world problems.
Teams of 2-4 students can enter the competition, with commended teams attending an awards event at the Science Museum. The winning team get £1,000 for their school and the chance to participate in an Ultimate STEM experience day.
This year’s theme is reimagining solutions to real life problems – from sweaty backpacks to 3D classrooms.
Last year, more than 500 students from across the country took part in the competition. Here’s how two previous winners of the competition examine the impact winning had on children in the classroom and the wider school.
Case study: Bredon Hill Academy – 2018 Ultimate STEM Challenge winners
What did Bredon’s winning solution look like?
The group that won decided to look at improving the fuel economy of a drone. They did this by looking into the principles of flight and considered how they could make a model that would glide well – reducing the need for fuel.
One of the girls came along to a session after watching Life on Earth on TV and suggested using biomimicry – after she had seen a gliding lizard. The group decided that other people had used birds before but birds gain height by flapping their wings (which would not be achievable) and so looked at the lizards’ shape and based designs on that.
The designs they tried were all made out of card and after trying various other designs, the ‘lizard design’ went the furthest.
An instant impact of the Challenge was the progress pupils made in science that year, as two of the three pupils were the top performing pupils – one pupil in particular made amazing progress.
All of the pupils gained hugely in confidence. The act of standing up in front of a large group of people and talking about their project to different adults really had an impact on them in all subjects.
The pupils have now moved on to a high school but all are taking triple science and doing well and making fantastic progress.
Advice to careers leaders
Set up a STEM club and take part in competitions (it is a good opportunity to allow pupils a bit of freedom and self-management). Do things that highlight the importance of STEM – we have a STEM day (a day off timetable where pupils engage in various cross-curricular STEM activities), visit the Big Bang in Birmingham and more the pupils love Science week.
Look at the STEM Learning website as it provides lots of resources, CPD opportunities (which are funded and have a real impact on teaching and learning), groups relating to areas of interest (e.g. STEM club) and access to STEM ambassadors.
Sally Huntly – STEM technician
Case study: Walton Priory Middle School, 2017 winners
What did Walton’s winning solution look like?
The girls built a waterwheel, out of two bicycle wheels and scrap wood. The school bought a dynamo for £8 from eBay in China, and our DT technician helped the team to get it attached with a bicycle chain. We attached a few Christmas tree lights to the dynamo and when they actually lit up, children were running around the whole school, getting anyone they could find to come and see it.
Once it worked, we loaded up the team into a minibus and went to a stream. They built a dam from a ladder, some plastic and sandbags. We were trying to show that power output was proportional to the depth of water in the dam.
Waterwheels are hardly leading-edge science and we were surprised to get to the competition final at the Science Museum. Other schools had much more sophisticated entries. However, it was obvious during our team’s presentation that we had easily had the most fun and that standing in a stream in the bitter cold with machinery that refused to work struck a chord with the experienced BP engineers on the judging panel. Our technology didn’t win, but our team’s tenacity and problem-solving abilities did.
For a little school like ours, with few resources, winning the Ultimate STEM Challenge had an extraordinary effect. Our most recent OFSTED report wasn’t good, and the win came at just the right time to put a spring back in everyone’s step. We’ve had VIP visitors, photos in all the local papers and a congratulatory letter from our local MP.
Advice to careers leaders
Practical STEM is expensive, but we won £4,000 over three different competitions last year with a similar low-tech-high-fun approach. We have no decent machinery in school but decided to spend most of our funds on craft materials. This means that every child in every practical lesson can be creative. We’d love to have a 3D printer or a laser cutter, but we don’t – nor do we see those things as priorities.
Our after-school STEM club is so popular that we’ve had to restrict numbers. We currently have about a dozen teams working on projects across a range of competitions. If a team gets close to a good entry, the headteacher will consider allowing them out of lessons to hone entries and presentations. We start off with good ideas and bright pupils, but we also fully commit our time and resources to help the best teams to shine. We’ve always done it for exceptional athletes and footballers, so why not for budding engineers?
Gordon Taylor, STEM technician