Engaging children to solve tomorrow's big issues

In early October, ACS International schools teamed up with a host of STEAM organisations for an inspiring educational day for 10,000 children held at Thorpe Park, Surrey. Fiona Murchie was there to find out more.

Engaging children to solve tomorrow's big issues
Students and their teachers from a broad range of schools, backgrounds and ages were welcomed to an exhilarating day of learning and fun.The STEAM event was staged as part of ACS International schools’ charitable mission to collaborate with state and independent schools across the region to raise the standards of teaching and learning through innovative, relevant and accessible initiatives. Their aim is to fill the gaps in mainstream services that have a positive impact on children’s education.Organisations attending the event at Thorpe Park included Airforce Air Cadets, Barclays Digital, Bloodhound Team, Endeavour Steam Engine, Intel, INTO Film, LEGO, Mercedes F1 car, the RAF, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Supersonic Car, TED Talks, and Vex Robotics.
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A view on future skills and careers

On the day, Fiona Murchie spoke to Tim Cagney, ACS’s Chief Executive, who explained the concept behind the event. “We recognise that young people need to be inspired for their future careers. We also recognise that creativity is at the heart of young people’s future. We wanted to engage with schools across the UK and invite them to be part of a superb day of education. Because we are at a fun park, all the children have to go around and find education moments for themselves, which allows them to get on the rides.“But equally and more importantly we demonstrate things like augmented reality and artificial intelligence. We’ve got robots here and the whole event is about STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. Today gives young people a view on future skills and the things that they might be ready for in the future themselves. So today is all about engagement.”Explaining more about what young people would take away he said, “I think for the young people it is the art of the possible. Many young people I have spoken to today said ‘I’ve never seen a Formula 1 car or I’ve never actually held a robot or I have never been able to programme something or even hold or play a musical instrument.’  I think the engagement from young people and making their creativity just flourish for today, is something for them and it gives them a sense of the beyond the possible.“I think for teachers it allows them to see the whole and how STEAM subjects work together very coherently in their own curriculum. It allows them to talk to young people about future careers and skills of the future.”

Opening doors

I asked Head of School, ACS Cobham, Barnaby Sandow, why he was excited by this STEAM initiative, particularly coming from a physics teaching background.“I have never seen anything quite like it. The sights and sounds are overwhelming. I think we have 10,000 students here and they are making the choice to engage with science and technology and earn their way onto rides and there are just happy faces all around.“If you watch the children themselves, they are engaged, they are making the choice about what interests them, pursuing their own interests. It is heating the fire of curiosity with all of these kids, which is brilliant.“It is closing the distance between the work that people do in high-tech industries and what they are doing in the classroom, and they can think ‘hold on, I can really do that, I can really make that happen myself ’.“If we can open the door for just a small fraction of the children that are here today, then that will be a fulsome achievement.”I asked a graduate test engineer with the Mercedes F1 car what drew him to the sector? He responded: “I have always loved cars, had curiosity about how things worked and why we built them, and that drew me toward engineering and maths, and that love brought me to Formula 1."He explained why he was there at the STEAM event. “Essentially, to show the kids the car, W13, Louis Hamiliton’s car, get them excited about engineering and some of the really cool applications you can apply engineering, maths and science to.” Quizzed about what topics school students have to be keen on he responded, “You have to be a very curious individual. You need to work hard at your maths and science, but there are also a lot of avenues you can go down, whether it is electronics you like, or computer science or you are more into mechanical engineering.”

Experiencing science

I also spoke to Lisa Mullan, Manager at Baylab, who was there demonstrating some of their teaching in laboratory activities, including ‘blood making’ using sweets and coloured water, which was proving a real hit with the children.She explained, “Bayer itself is a life sciences company. Obviously, we need lots of scientists and we make pharmaceutical medicine and medicine for over the counter. We are also very interested in growing food for the growing population, crop science and higher yields, so scientists are welcome for all of those areas. There is no lab in the UK. All the research is done in the US and Germany, but we have a teaching laboratory so children and teachers can come, put on a lab coat and actually get hands-on science, to encourage them. This is part of Bayer’s outreach.”In addition, Baylab was demonstrating a giant inflatable heart, which has been four years in the making and was at Thorpe Park on its maiden voyage. Children were having great fun in the anatomically correct model, walking a similar path to which the blood would go. They were learning what makes a heart healthy or unhealthy and getting a sense of what the heart looks like, what’s inside and exploring science in a context they wouldn’t normally experience.As Lisa explained, “Any teacher wants their child to experience learning as best they can, but schools are short on time and short on resources and in fact primary schools are also very short on people with science backgrounds, so science gets left out as it is not on the SATs (KS2 tests). So, it is brilliant to be able to come somewhere where there are experts and the children can immerse themselves. It is also a day out in the fresh air and not stuck in the classroom, all the ingredients you would want to teach a child.”I also met Ellen Shustik of charitable foundation Inner Wings, which offers free confidence-building programmes to primary schools, and who we spoke to as part of the Autumn 2022 International Education and Schools Fair.

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