Author Archives: spiketown

Er…well some girls maybe!

It was a bit controversial yesterday’s blog suggesting that girls are naturally better engineers than boys…but you can read why I said it below. However today, after a year of running these events, we had the first ever team with at least some boys in it win the race with the fastest time. That however, was not the most interesting thing about today. We had the ever fabulous Y1 pupils from Oakdene Primary today. They worked hard, they collaborated in groups, they asked a squllion questions. But at the end I was asking them about engineering and the best thing ever happened. I suggested that engineers were usually men. The reaction was immediate ‘Nooooooo!, Don’t be silly……’ really? These Y1 children were quite genuinely gender blind to the role. Many of the girls told me during the day how they would quite like to be engineers. Here they are at working you wouldn’t argue:

Can you see any lack of talent? No. I am very aware that Oakdene are a very proactive school with aspirations. They engage with employers regularly and certainly use the events here as a backbone of activity to integrate with that. Looking at the new OfSTED framework they are clearly addressing the cultural and social capital requirements already. If that is what is happening then the symptoms are what I saw today.

Pics of the teams and boats are below, well done to every team….even the ones who er….sank!

Girls are better engineers than boys!

Well that has to be the conclusion I am afraid.

We have run the STEM boats event countless times this year and yet again a team of girls has produced the fastest boat on the day. This was the first time we had run the event with KS1 and the brilliant children from Brambles, Layfield and Saltburn worked tirelessly from start to finish to produce effective sail boats. Yes we had a huge focus on team work throughout the day and yes we did some scientific method to test different shapes and sizes of sails, but the winning times were just as good as any other pupils we have had from Y1 – Y9! Growing research (and common sense if you ask any teacher!) will tell you that attitude is everything when trying to achieve both at school and in life generally. These types of days do not focus on curriculum, targets or test scores. They are solely focussed on giving the pupils the opportunity to develop the skills and attitudes they will need in most of their adult working life. Engaging children to want to have a great future through the right attitude has more of an influence on how well they will do than anything else. From what I have seen today they will have some very successful careers ahead of them if they continue to work with the attitude that they showed.

The images below shows just how focussed, organised and determined the children were when working on their boats and testing them:

And the teams ready to race!

And the winning times!


Code Kings and Queens

Astounding. I think that probably sums them up best. The brilliant pupils from Hillsview, Brambles Primary and Acklam Whin have been simply astounding.

‘Here are some robots that I want you to tell a story with. Oh and they have to follow a complex map to tell their story. Oh and you have less than 4 hours to learn the software, try out solutions to the challenge and create a coherent programme.’ And boy did they do this! Sometimes we find that these longer challenges can have a few children flagging bit during the afternoon, losing focus and becoming a bit lost. Well that certainly didn’t happen today, In fact I reckon most of them would keep this up all week if they got the chance….and they would be very welcome to. Particularly of note was the concentration levels shown by some of the girls today. I recently filmed in a lot of coding/digital type businesses and one thing they all told me was that they wanted more female employees but they just didn’t get the applications. Well I can assure them that the future is bright, really bright and Middlesbrough’s continuing growth as a Digital Hub is in very safe hands.

The pictures below say it all but there will also be some videos of their programming in action later today.

Modelling the challenge step by step:

And a ‘simple’ explanation of one team’s plans:

Below is a compilation of the final attempts to run the course. None of the groups had been allowed to test drive the course during the day, many had recreated it using masking tape or rolls of paper as test tracks. Despite the difference in the floor texture and the fact that it takes about two and a half minutes for at the complete programme to complete the course we actually had some get all the way to the end. Amazing stuff. Even though not everyone did, they knew where they had gone wrong and every single one of them could be heard muttering how they could correct it as they went back to their seats. They REALLY understood what they had been learning.

The final attempts are now below:


Raising Young Aspirations

Oh I so much look forward to these sorts of days. The evidence for the huge impact that events like these has on these children’s future success in their careers is growing week by week. The latest being a pilot randomised control trial published yesterday (here). It specifically correlates actual rise in grades at GCSE but also details the children attitudes and commitment which anyone who works with businesses knows are the key attributes to getting quality employment.

We had fabulous support as always by a range of companies, individuals and organisations: Nifco, PD Ports, Rolls Royce, Teesside University, NHS, CUBIC, EDF and Pop with his Tesla! He’s actually a doctor but he loves to inspire children about technology. The children from Layfield, Lockwood and Saltburn had such a range of experiences and the evidence tells us that most of them, particularly the ones who find school work a challenge,  will do better in school and in life simply by being part of it. This isn’t changing education by ‘teaching them better’, it is about widening social and cultural capital so that they want to do better.

And how to build a jet engine made by Rolls Royce:

Or drive a Tesla with your phone:

Who would want them on your team?

Lovely to welcome Y7 Sacred Heart to the Centre today. They needed some space and some activities for these students so we set them the Locomaths Challenge. As usual the focus is on teamwork and getting the pupils to experience a time limited challenge that they entirely direct. We also emphasise the skills and attitudes that they will use during the day in order to be successful; skills and attitudes that they will ned when they are older. A key question from this morning was: would someone pay you money to sit next to you in an office on a project? Commitment, focus, enthusiasm are all incredibly important attitudes to have in most work spaces and this was an opportunity for pupils to experience what that means in a time pressured, out of school situation.

You can see from the pictures below the excellent effort that most have made:

I was really impressed with the quality of many of the presentations. Most were really detailed with clear rationale for decisions the team had made. It was clear that they had worked effectively together. But a also I’d like to commend some of the presenters who maybe didn’t have the longest or most detailed presentations but at least they showed the leadership to stand up on behalf of the team. That was definitely a learning experience for some.

Digital City Code Camp

We’ve been meaning to do something like this for years and then a great meeting with Steve Dougan at Teesside University introduced me to the student board in the school of computing. Fast forward a few months and we have 64 pupils here today from 16 schools across the Tees Valley. The fantastic students have create an day of activities based around the BBC Micro:bit creativity kits and the level of coding and particularly fault finding has been amazing to watch. In fact several of the groups have switched their block style coding to the source Javascript in order to solve problems in the tasks more effectively. The local digital economy is growing and growing and it is pupils like these who will the future workforce that builds on our local reputation for excellence and innovation. Schools can do so much but opportunities like these really bring the raise the value of learning coding and how it relates to future local career opportunities. I am gobsmacked at the quality and complexity of their work. It sure beats the old way we talk ‘computers’ focussing on how to use a mouse or how to use a Microsoft package!

Huge thanks to the students from Teesside Uni and all the schools who took part form across the whole area. Even the Big Weekend couldn’t stop them getting here: Sacred Heart, St Josephs, Myton Park, Park End, St Gerards, Bankfields, Throston, Grangetown, Normanby, Whinstone, Corpus Christi, Chaloner, UCA, Oakdene, Whale Hill and Barnard Grove.

To be honest, the interest from schools was so great (at a week or two’s notice!) that we had more schools than kits. Do we ever let schools down here? No, of course not. The additional schools who couldn’t fit in the Microbit session have been creating. day in the life of a robot using our I2L kit. The videos are below the images of them working (from 3pm):

And a week (ish) in the life of the robots:

Professional People

How many times have you walked into a business and everyone was the same age and from the same housing estate? None? Me neither. One of the real strengths of our events at Inspire2Learn is the constant mix of pupils of all ages. The way that we structure tasks means that they are often easy to access for most ages but are then differentiated through the experiences and skills that different pupils bring. Today is a great example. We have pupils from William Cassidi Primary, Unity Academy and Catcote Academy. The age range os from Y5 – Y13! And has that hampered anyone? Has that changed the task in any way? Not one jot. In fact it creates a really purposeful atmosphere. As always the start of the day was focussed on what we mean by effective teamwork. That created a set of criteria which we will be looking for as the day progresses. Completing the task has required the groups to define roles, create a plan for the time available and get on with it. You can see form the pictures below that there have been some really great strategies developed to complete the task and the quality fo the work so far has been exceptional:

Following a few technical hitches, here are some highlights form the presentations!

Thinking Outside the Self

On paper this is called an Enterprise Day but as many people in education will know, ‘enterprise’ is often used as a cover all for a whole range of activities. Our focus falls on two things: teamwork – always; and developing an idea for a particular audience. In this case they have been asked to create a new LEGO set. To be honest, the LEGO is the least of it and we use it as an additional creative element to the day; it helps to formulate ideas. They have been asked to work through a process, identifying an audience (an audience that is not them!), identify what will attract that audience, draw them in – and then create a new set that appeals to those values. It is always interesting that despite a structured walk through of the task, some warm up tasks to introduce the key thought processes to consider and a partially worked example, once the LEGO comes out many children simply disregard it all. They immediately want to create with the LEGO. That is no bad thing in itself but I am pretty sure that the design teams at LEGO don’t start with a pile of bricks most days and then just start building any old thing. The average 6 year old would be just as effective. There has to be thought behind the product, an aim, interwoven with creativity that produces something that is both novel and yet oddly familiar in that it focusses on audience values. The pupils from Rye Hills and Abbey Hill have all taken the end product idea on board and the key audience. To a greater or lesser extent though they have tried to implement the thought processes that we have provided to ensure that the best product that could have been produced has been achieved.

Finally they combined their product development skills and advertising understanding to produce some simple adverts that show the structures that they have been learning about. Not bad for half an hour’s work!

And some of the finished adverts:

Linking the Curriculum to the World of Work

‘Why are we focussing on STEM for our inspiration events?’

I asked that question at the beginning of our STEM in the World of Work day today. They were all pretty clear that maths and English applied to everyone in the room but STEM? Isn’t that just for geeky people? Well of course it very much isn’t. In fact most businesses I work with are very keen on an understanding of STEM either directly related to the work that their employees do or peripherally in terms of the technology skills that they expect.

Northshore, Abbey Hill and Rye Hills had a great day working with support from Analox, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, James Cook Speech and Language Unit , Health Education England and TTE. A huge range of sectors all linked by STEM and a wide range of different activities to be inspired by. Thank you massively to all our company supporters yet again.

Scrapheap Challenge May 2019

Leadership and polite enthusiasm. Yes I definitely think that those words sum up today’s challenge. As usual the emphasis is not on what the children produce, it is about how they work, how their interact, how they gel as a team. The brilliantly polite and enthusiastic children from Wynyard Primary Reception class today have been a pleasure to have in the Centre. Alongside them we welcomed the equally polite and enthusiastic Y5 children from St Clare’s. In addition they showed brilliant leadership through their incredibly mature approach not just to their work but also their general demeanour around the building, what a great example to the younger children. It has been a great mix.

Have a look at some of the brilliant interactions and effort that were the key part of

the day and enjoy our presentations in the video below (after 2.30pm).