Working in an office-based role, I don’t get out as much as I’d like to (story of my life with a 2-year-old). So, I jump at the chance to attend any events I get invited to *hint hint* or anywhere I know my help will be welcome and I can contribute. It’s essential in marketing to know your product so it’s imperative I go out and see the things I want to write about, even more so when it comes to covering stories for our website and publications.
Needless to say, I was absolutely made up to have the opportunity to go work with some inspiring young females, on International Women’s Day no less!! I packed up my camera and headed off to Trinity Catholic School, a lovely school which is based in Leamington Spa, just around the corner from the Trust.
Our education officer Jess kicked off the day by asking who knew what ‘STEM’ meant and also what the girls knew about engineering. It’s safe to say that the students were clued up and knew what STEM meant, as well as having a good few ideas about engineering and the different roles engineers play.
Jess then spent a little bit of time introducing the Year 7 and 8 girls to The Smallpeice Trust. It’s always nice to be reminded of where we came from and that the word, ‘Smallpeice’ isn’t in fact one or two words spelt wrong(!), it’s actually the name of our founder and brilliant engineer, Dr Cosby Smallpeice. Cosby ploughed £1.6 million of his personal fortune into setting up the Trust to give young people the support they need to bring their ideas to life through science, technology, education and maths. The room is filled with eager listening faces. Most people in the room haven’t heard of Smallpeice so it’s nice to see them show an interest.
The students then get to work on an icebreaker challenge. We have a few different ones we use on STEM days and today was the paper tower challenge. Make the tallest tower from 10 pieces of paper, sounds easy right? Well it can be, until you realise it has to be able to hold a 100g weight. Hmm. Some towers were great, well thought through, slowly constructed. Some were thrown together quickly and fell down just as fast! All in the name of great fun and learning of course. A few didn’t quite qualify as a ‘tower’ but I’d say the one that didn’t quite go to plan the most was put together by the team that, SPOILER ALERT, won the overall Propelled glider challenge later on.
Jess then gets into the nitty-gritty of the project and tells the teams what they will be working on – The The Propelled Glider Challenge. The girls took on the roles of aeronautical engineers and were asked to design and build an aircraft that would fly in a straight line and stay in the air as long as possible. Working in small groups, the young future engineers were tasked with designing, marketing and building the aircraft.
Not being a natural engineer myself (sorry boss), I find it pleasing to see that so much more goes into designing and buildings things than the nuts and bolts or the complicated equations that I myself was never great at. Yes, these parts are essential but nobody is going to want to drive a car that doesn’t look very appealing or is extortionate to run.
Some students have great design ideas while others are very hands-on and good at the construction side. Some are amazing at maths and some can see where a problem will arise before it’s even happened. Teams are so important on these days because not only does it increase self-confidence working in groups, but it ensures that all bases are covered and allows everybody to demonstrate their best skills for the task.
Maybe it’s that I’m used to spending most of my days dealing with unruly toddlers, but it was amazing to see how well the girls all listened to the instructions and then got to work in their teams. Lots of discussions over the design of the aircraft, “which wings are the best? Which ones make it fly the furthest? Is this tail better than that one?” And the worry of spending too much or not enough ‘money’ to make the best propelled glider.
Prototypes were made and problems were identified. It was so enjoyable to see the girls find solutions to their problems, make changes and then try again only to succeed. The smiles on the faces were so inspiring, I wanted to quit my job (joking boss) and go straight back to secondary school to have the chance to take part in some STEM days.
The next part of the task was to build the real gliders and put them to the test! This was where the real excitement kicked in! Through blind panic trying to get balsa wood sanded, broken wings mended and too much (or too little) hot glue gun action, the students all produced fantastic propelled gliders and they couldn’t have been prouder. Designing marketing posters to promote their gliders added to the frantic calculating of costs and wishing away the thousands of pounds that had been spent on one too many lolly sticks.
The day wrapped up with testing aircrafts and giving team presentations on the USPs of their gliders. Each of the teams stood up in a huge hall in front of all their peers and talked confidently about their glider. It was such a brave thing to do and something most adults don’t even enjoy having to do. I was very honoured to have been in the company of such brave girls. The winner was announced and awarded a small prize.
Everything was tidied away and the room put back together for the next normal day at school. There was chatter and excitement as everybody was getting ready to leave. The day was over and I didn’t want to go home! It was so exciting to be part of the STEM adventure that had taken place that day and I definitely can’t wait to be at the next one.