VEX and WeDo leagues Challenge 1

Well done to all the teams that turned up for the first challenge last Thursday. Amazingly only two eggs were damaged on the evening at the VEX event and they were by the same team! You know who you are…

It was interesting to see a range of modifications that had been applied to most of the VEX robots, including some ‘egg delivery systems’ that had variable success. The WeDo robots however showed even more variation with Riverdale devising a powered winch rather than a powered car to move the objects along the course. They also used gear wheels to limit slip on the drive belts.

The aim of the leagues is togged pupils thinking like engineers. Yes they can use experience to base their thoughts on but thinking about the fundamentals of the problems and how best to solve it is the key. If that means a totally novel approach then so be it. As the year progresses we will also see much more of a focus on the programming integrating with the hardware. There will be training available for the VEX software in late November and that date will be announced to all teams soon.

Although this is a league, we have shied away form ‘points make prizes’ at this initial stage however at future events there will be prizes up for grabs. For now though I will simply mention that all teams performed really well in both leagues and that LJS were the quickest in the egg slalom. Next challenges will be live early next week…


Another very successful day here today as three schools attended our first (of five) STEM days for 2016/17. We had hands on activities from a range of STEM ambassadors across engineering and technology disciplines. GoAhead Training led sessions programming VEX robots, Labman braved the elements to build and launch rockets, Gareth Atwood explored materials and energy, Connor from Cleveland Bridge created binary patterns as a key concept of computing, Jessica from Teesside university built tubular paper bridges and the team from Analox explored sensing through their own products and a range of activities. Browse the pictures below to get a flavour of what your company or your pupils could get up to at future events:

Logistical Support

Who knew it was National Lorry Week?

thumb_dsc_6393_1024Hands up…no, not you, or you…well I did because of the close support our local logistics companies have given to the employer/education events that we have continued to develop here. Today was a bespoke day to celebrate National Lorry Week but we also wanted to ensure that the children had a quality experience and understood the role of logistics vehicles on our roads.

Children from Southbank Primary and Grangetown Primary came to the centre to find out more about the range of roles that the logistics sector has to offer. It isn’t all about driving trucks!

The day opened with a brilliant presentation by Wendy O’Donnell the Assistant Harbour Master for the River Tees. Her expertise and obvious enthusiasm for ships, the merchant navy and the workings of the River VTS was both engaging and interesting for the children who didn’t know very much about Teesport’s existence despite living within 2 miles of it!

The children then got the opportunity to explore six different types of trucks that had been kindly offered through Devereux, PD Ports, Scania, Mobile Mini, Teesside LGV Training and Volvo. The drivers were really helpful and gave the children an in depth tour as well as the opportunity to sit in the cabs. The children came alive with millions of questions but in hindsight I think disabling the airhorns might have been a good idea!

Back in the auditorium and the children were asked to try reaction and eyesight tests on img_1997our iPads to see if they had the ability to cope with being a truck driver. By undergoing the tests the children were then asked to nominate their table ‘champion’ to take on the dreaded ‘PingPong Exchange Test’ in front of the whole audience and live on the big screen. Well done to Holly for becoming our overall champion.

The day was an excellent example of how supportive local businesses are being helping children of all ages to realise that there are lots of exciting possibilities open to them when they leave school. Inspire2Learn has developed a programme with most of the key sectors in this area so if your company is not involved yet please let us know. All we need is a little of your time. There is becoming a real appetite in our local schools to include more employer engagement in the children’s education because the growing evidence currently suggests that it is has a measurable impact on their life chances.

The Robots are Coming….again!!!

Yep the new kits for the Y3/4 robot league have arrived and YOUR SCHOOL could be receiving one to be part of the WeDo LEGO league in the Tees Valley. How do you get one? Simple, you must send me a submission froimg_1944m your prospective robot team of pupils explaining why your school should receive a kit. Submissions must be NO MORE than a side of A4 or NO MORE than a 30second video submission. As ever, creative approaches are very much welcomed. This is a great opportunity for authentic writing for purpose.

The league will be launched on 27th September (9.30 – 2.30 lunch included) where teams will be expected to attend (one adult and up up to 3 children) to receive the kit and initial training. Fixtures will then be played on the following dates:

20th October

8th December

2nd February

6th April

(All at 1pm until 2.30pm at Inspire2Learn)

With a final celebration Challenge event on 30th June (9.30 – 2.30). There will also be a one off ‘cup match’ on 20th January 9.30 – 2.30.

A new challenge will be issued at the beginning of each half term and the fixture is the chance to apply your solution against other teams.

The kits combine building skills with a brilliant programming interface that I have used with children down to Y1 successfully….but the possibilities for the older children are endless.img_1945

To submit a bid for a kit please email:

By Friday at 3pm. Successful teams will be notified by the end of Monday 19th.

Want to earn more money?

Emergency-Pounds-Cash-Sorry you are probably too late! I’ll explain…

During the Summer I attended an excellent conference by the Education and Employers Taskforce. They are commissioned to review and produce research looking at the engagement of employers with education. Does what it says on the tin. Their monthly bulletin has been the source of lots of our rationale for running ’employability’ events (see the Events tab). The conference addressed many of the issues that we have discussed on this website over the last few
years but one piece of recent research really stood out.

Who has heard of the National Cohort Study? Nope, me neither until recently. It is a randomised study looking at the progress through life of all the babies born in a random week in 1970 (about 18000 participants). It is still ongoing although with the inevitable drop out and loss of contact with some subjects (still about 8000 participating). Every few years the research team would get in touch with the subjects and ask them questions about their life. The questions are often aimed at key issues that certain age groups might be mainly concerned with. For example in 1986 many of the questions were about IMG_1279school leaving issues and about career guidance, work experience and so on. Forward fast to some of the more recent data and the average earnings of the subjects are revealed beyond the age of 40. What the E&E team have done with this data is try to correlate the incidence of employer engagement by the end of school with current earnings.

They did find a correlation…in fact they have found a very significant statistical correlation. Their data suggests that for every input, experience or contact that you received at school from someone in the world of work, your current earnings will be 0.4% higher. This applies to the most educated as it does to the least…across the board. So you will most likely earn 1.2% more than the person with the same qualifications as you if you had three more experiences. Sounds pretty unlikely doesn’t it but by digging around the literature there are several examples of recent studies from the US and the UK that actually put the figure higher…though with smaller sample sizes.

Now have a look at our Events page and tell me which ones you want your children involved in, I’ll give them 0.4% more wage each week for every one that they attend!

IMG_0425We have changed some of the booking requirements for events this year. Most events can accept 12 pupils from any one school but you can send different sets of 12 on different days. So for example, you can send 12 children on the first STEM day…they will come back excited and telling all their classmates about it which creates a buzz; then another 12 can go to the next STEM day a few months later and so on. That way there can be a sustained effect from the events rather than just coming to one a year. Several schools have already booked in a whole year’s worth of events for each class to create a sustained programme for their school.

One further change is that where we have enough external funding for pupil based events, we are able to offer it at no charge. For some events though we will be asking for a nominal fee of £60 per participating school to help offset the cost. This charge does not apply to R&C schools because they already fund the building. We are also offering this to any Trust, Alliance or other(!) where multiple bookings for room hire or on courses shows that they are contributing to the cost of Inspire2Learn. Please contact Andrew for details.

Our brochure of events with lots of added detail can be found here.

See you all soon.


Creativity? √ Animation? √ Classical music? √

Another busy day here at Inspire2Learn with over 60 children engaging in the ‘BBC Ten Pieces’ of classical music. Most of the children are familiar with the piece although not by name! We spent the beginning of the day listening to each and discussing how it made them feel. This provided an idol opportunity to use the LEGO ‘Build to Express’ sets that we have here at the centre. You can imagine the general use of skeletons, cutlasses and chains that they chose to use for building their feelings while listening to ‘Night on a Bare Mountain!’ imageRebecca Topping from Middlesbrough Town Hall popped in after a quick break to tell the children about the pieces of music from a musician’s point of view, discussing the various instruments in an orchestra and how the music is built up. And then….

The children were then asked to choose one of the ten pieces for their animation using the same LEGO set. Using movie planners, pop up film studios and requested backdrops the children have managed in the last 90 mins to : a) write a story and storyboard it b) create the props for their movie including a backdrop c) learn how to animate. As I look around the room (with ten minutes to go) I cannot see a single child who is not fully engaged with the task in hand, not one. They chose to miss out on a dinner break too!

The montage below gives a flavour of the creativity, problem solving and team skills required to accomplish this task successfully.

This was the first time that the majority of the children had ever attempted animation before so taking on such a challenging task might have been considered a set up to failure. But we have sen it time and time again, motivating tasks with a clear end point using a range of media always brings out the best in the children who come here. So, here is the showcase. I have moulded it into one long animation with a break between each individual piece of work. The soundtrack is taken from three of the ‘Ten Pieces’ which can be found as downloadable mp3s on the BBC website. First attempts? I can’t wait to see what they will produce after a bit more practice…

We will be running lots of events like this next year so please keep an eye on the events page for next year’s diary when it emerges in the next few weeks. We are also happy to come and run these in schools too!

He is the music man…

imageIt is with great pleasure that we are hosting David Kirtlan today at Inspire2Learn. For those of you who don’t know him, he is one of the leading digital technology trainers in the world and is probably best known for his work with schools developing iPad bands. Having often worked with David at various events around the country over the last few years it has been a glaring omission in our offer for local schools in the Tees Valley.

So here he is! Currently working with 32 children from 8 schools the children are learning about playing as an ensemble, taking parts and layering instrumentation. Many of the children have previous experience of playing ‘real’ instruments but using iPads for the entire orchestra is new to all of them. The culmination of the day will be a live orchestra performance and YOU can watch it live on this page at 2.15pm this afternoon. We have plans to involve David much more closely with the Centre over the coming year as part of our massive new offer for schools. If you would like to be involved please contact me:

David is also always very happy to come and work in individual schools and you can either contact him through me or by clicking on the link on his name above.

Let’s see how we are getting on…

an hour, three instruments and some serious concentration later…

And now ladies and gentlemen, we present I2L’s iPad Band….

“the Inspire2Learn centre does exactly what it says on the tin: it inspired us to learn”

Maybe I am getting lazy using quotes from the teachers and children who use the centre as post titles but my excuse is that they reflect the feedback we get from the events.

IMG_1279We had our first Y5 Aspiration Fair a week or so ago attended by 250 pupils from 6 of our primary schools. By the time we have completed the next four planned we will have had close to 2000 pupils through the door.

But what is it?

Anyone who has read this blog recently will know that most of our events are underpinned by the belief that we need to raise children’s aspirations for what their futures could be like after they leave school; or what is the point in being there? We also know from a fair bit of research (the ASPIRES stuff is probably the most accessible) that throwing money at 14-19 is probably missing the boat by a fair margin (though should not be ignored!). My own experience as a primary school teacher tells me that by about Y5 children are already deciding what they definitely aren’t going to be based on very little information. So one of our big aims here is to ensure that any activity has an underlying theme of employability skills and opening eyes to possibilities.


Based on our thinking from the last paragraph it was inevitable that our Aspiration Fairs would be created. We targeted the key sectors where employment possibilities will be greatest (data from TVU) in the next ten years: Logistics, Engineering, Digital Tech and Construction. To ensure that schools had few barriers to attending we have created a range of dates and even paid for their bus travel via Routes to Employment who have worked really closely with us to make this a success. They even ran one of the sessions so that the children had a flavour of thinking about their own career. It is a taster of something that they are offering into primary schools over the next year.

Two hours broken into 20 minute intense ‘workshops’ led by real people from a range of roles in each sector proved to be very effective. Becky from ItchyRobot certainly inspired a whole table of girls that I spoke to, especially one who hadn’t realised that studying art was a desirable part of web design. PD Ports brought a huge ‘tractor’ (not a Massey-Ferguson) with Harry and Jim which created the basis of conversations around the IMG_1284importance of Teesport and moving goods around. Andrew and his apprentice from Jacobs and Connor from Cleveland Bridge showed different aspects of engineering and Dave from GoAhead brought loads of hands on activities based on VEX and Crumble. Construction had great role models in Sharon and Jess representing NAWIC and the wide range of roles that the word ‘construction’ obscures. It was breathless for the presenters and a real dose of groundhog day but the feedback from the schools was even better than we had aimed for.

IMG_1287Several teachers have told me that the conversations about different careers have continually resurfaced in the ensuing couple of weeks, especially in relation to work they are doing in the classroom. This interests me particularly because of a conversation I had recently with a secondary school leader. She told me that the school was working hard to ensure that all teaching was at least good. No argument there. But it was the rational that interested me. She said that many children don’t engage in lessons and often truant because the teaching isn’t good enough. I don’t agree.

At school a lot of my lessons were very ropey, some bordered on abuse by the teachers but I didn’t EVER truant, fail to turn up or stop working. I wasn’t the hardest working child in the school but I always did what I need to do to get to the next stage. Why? In built resilience? Huge determination to succeed? A family who would tan my hide if I didn’t behave? Nope (well, a bit of the last one to be fair…). I worked because I knew that I had to if I wanted to do the next step. I had no career plan at all and no help to get one but what I did know was that points make prizes and that if I did what I needed to, despite the quality of teaching, I would have options to play with for a good job. There was always an end goal in sight.

Many of the children in the Tees Valley do not have that outlook. They hear about unemployment and may be surrounded by it at home. School has become a meaningless run of tests and exams with no relevance outside of its four walls. They aren’t my words, they are what I am told by TEACHERS, lots of them at all key stages (except EYFS where the whole child is still a key principle).

By engaging with the wider world, seeing the relevance of what they are learning (don’t get me started on KS2 Reading and SPAG though!) with a reason to pass the exams they will see a future for themselves. And that is why we run our events in the way that we do, creative, rigorous, all age and authentic through interaction with a range of local companies.

There are still places left on some of the dates if you didn’t know about this and wanted to come (24th May, 17th June, 4th July and 8th July) because unfortunately some schools still regard this sort of things as getting in the way of learning what a subjunctive is…


“What did we do so right to go there?”

IMG_1159I have changed the name of this post following feedback from a teacher in one of the participating schools. She wasn’t at I2L during the day but was waiting for children when they arrived back in school. Her words: ‘I have never seen those children so buzzing about anything‘. The title is a quote from one of the children who had taken part. Every teacher knows the value of motivation for effective learning and the feedback I have had from all the schools has been the same. Of course every lesson can’t  be ‘build a space hotel’ but using events and activities like these to develop children’s wider skills (the ones they will need in everyday life and their future work careers – see posts passim) is continually proving to have a knock on effect in EVERY lesson. At least for a while….but that is why we put so many events on, usually at no cost to schools, so that schools can pick and choose which fit in with their own timetables across the year. Having a centre to do this is proving more invaluable all the time because it gives focus and direction to the activity. I was asked by one of the teachers yesterday if I could create a concept and come and do something in school. My answer of course was yes, I do it all the time, but I also wanted to highlight the value of it not being in school, something she agreed with. She related the interchange between a group of girls who felt that they had now learned ‘buffet etiquette’ (pronounced buff-Et) because they had been in the queue with some of the work ambassadors.

It is always a balance in teaching, and working with such a large number of schools now across the Tees Valley is confirming my initial belief that focussing lots of the centre’s efforts on developing wider skills for students is vital for their overall achievement and future life chances. Enough wittering…..

The final presentations:


52 children from four schools  employed in developing ideas for a new Space Hotel. How do you create a cafe in micro-gravity? What games might you play when you have difficulty staying in one place? These are not questions that phase our young designers and engineers at Inspire2Learn. Three of the schools were even video linking back to the rest of their class in school to ask them for designers, marketeers and film makers to help create and sell their hotel idea. Another, St Benedicts ran their communication through Padlet. Innovative and effective! No pressure and a fun day? Not really. The idea of the scrapheap challenges is to engage the children in the employability skills and experiences that it is very hard to replicate in school. The ones that we have built our framework around for schools to use to check if they are addressing these.

We also have 8 volunteers in the building today from engineering, science and employment backgrounds, engaging the children in conversation about how they are managing their work, what problems need to be solved and how they will achieve their aim. And their aim is?

To create a short presentation to camera detailing what they have achieved during the day and why. Sadly this could not be a live video web feed as the web monkeys who supply our broadband seem to have blocked all the services we routinely used last time (FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts). It would have been nice to have been told that things had changed without us having to actually try using it to find it doesn’t. Maybe I should check next time that the internet is working the same as it has done previously, the light switches work, the taps give out water…

I posted pictures as the work progressed. Many of our volunteers also left to visit the schools taking part and engage the students working in their classrooms. This was found to be a hugely beneficial aspect from both the team at the centre and the children back in school.

Can I also just ask? Why weren’t your students taking part? Oh, it clashed with something else, no problem, there are three more scrapheap challenges this side of the Summer so let me know when you want to come. Oh and if you are in ‘the world of work’ and would like to drop by for even an hour (but half a day would be even better!) drop me a line.

“Miss, you took 10 children into there today, and left with 10 inspired young women!”

I’ll take that as an appraisal; the words of a year 9 student on the way back to school after today’s ‘Inspiring Girls’ event.

FullSizeRenderNicky Peacock opened the day with an inspiring and hilarious account of how the ability to ‘fake it until you make it’ and ‘always say yes and work out how to do it afterwards’ were nuggets of information that are clearly the secret to her success as photographic artist, musician, art promoter and recently, artistic regeneration director. I’ve missed several of her mini careers out but speaking to some of the delegates at lunchtime they were genuinely inspired to look at the positives in a given situation and get involved.

We had such a mix of speakers that my brief description really won’t do it justice…so make sure your students are there next year (and at similar events ALL year).

We had Donna from the Army who genuinely opened up some students’ eyes to the range of roles that the Armed Forces offer, particularly the support that they will give to ensure recruits achieve qualifications. That struck a chord with several students when I spoke to them at the end of the day.

Rachael and Hannah from PunchRobson stepped in as late replacements for a colleague but you couldn’t tell. Several students had never considered Law as a career that they could aspire to and the session definitely broke down some barriers.

Lorraine Coghill (Ogden Trust and Durham University) is practically staff at the centre this week supporting our STEM day on Monday and our Scrapheap Challenge this Friday. Science and fashion design….surely not? But how do the materials get made? How can we use science to really push the boundaries of what materials can do and be? It was with some reluctance that I had to move some of the students at the end of one of her sessions to their next workshop, they were so engrossed.

Siobhan Fenton from Teesside University talked about animation. Sounds a bit niche? Not IMG_1112at all. She began each session by asking each and every girl in the room what they felt their strengths were and then related their answers to the huge number of roles in film, media and even games production. Pulling together her session with an animation made by a girl who five years ago would have been a delegate from one of the schools attending today,  but now works for an animation company in Germany was the icing on the cake. This wasn’t just talk, it was real and the girls came out of her sessions enthused about what they could achieve.

Accenture are probably the biggest company in computer software in the region…but who has heard of them? Well 50 girls have at least now! Karen Marshall brought two of her female apprentices to talk about their career route since leaving school, what they do at work, how it fits with their studies and how their vocational route has offered them future possibilities. The fact that Lucy and Emily are only a few years older than most of the delegates really helped to get the message across that this is something that is open to them if they aim for it. Computer programming clearly isn’t a bloke with Biros in his top pocket staring at a screen all day.

And finally, though of course not least, Ann Stonehouse and her colleague Jess Costello. Their session very much took a look at  how the girls can focus their ideas, their hopes and dreams, and then plan to make them a reality. Using a range of props (and post it notes!) the delegates began that process through the questions they were faced with in the session. I know several of the girls appreciated the opportunity to sit down and focus on something that they felt they wanted to do rather than perhaps the pressures they faced in other situations when their futures are discussed.

And I can’t forget to mention Chloe Meehan who gave up her lunchtime and rushed across CdC42RlWwAEz9QLwith her Olympic Torch to simply engage the girls in a real example of what happens when you have the attitude to get involved. I think she ended up in the most selfies.

The atmosphere in the centre all day was so positive and the feedback I have had from all of the schools involved has simply made us more determined at I2L to create more events that engage our students from primary to the time that they leave school. It is the strength of having a centre that can host and attract such events that gives our students in this area a real boost if schools want to get involved.

I was recently told by a senior leader in one of our schools that problems they were having with attendance were due to the quality of some of the lessons that their students went to. I now disagree. Students will put up with quite a variable range when it comes to quality of teaching. The difference is made when the students see the relevance of what they are being taught and see it as a stepping stone to a longer term aim. It doesn’t help that schools are continually held under the cosh of having to hit educational targets that bear absolutely no relation to what the world of work is asking for from schools. You can’t blame schools for that though. They are told they have to have this many A – C students in x number of subjects or they will be rated as failing. What do you expect them to do? Until the rhetoric in education shifts to what the purpose of education is, to prepare students for the rest of their lives, not just a test, then not much is going to change is it? So, for example, any failure of ‘powerhouses’ will be derailed by students’ lack of direction and motivation, not by a lack of a humanity GCSE.

Today showed how much enthusiasm and motivation can be generated when students are given the opportunity to see what the world might look like for the rest of their lives and what they have to do to achieve it.