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Design Engineering Masters!

What a fabulous day here at Inspire2Learn. I know I always write that but it was brilliant to welcome some new faces to take on our Locomaths event. As usual we start the day with a huge focus on teamwork skills and attitudes; asking the children to define them. We use that list as a thread to the activity for the rest of the day and we don’t give prizes for the product of the activity, we look for the process; who has gone over and beyond what we expect from great teammates. It is hard choice and the staff from Hummersea, Acklam Whin and Saltburn were hard pressed to choose. I also gave an additional award for a young lady who never lost enthusiasm at any poi t and was keen to engage in anything thrown at her. I heard her speaking to her group as they stopped for a mid morning break, ‘Let’s have a quick break but we need to get back because there is work to do. But don’t eat too fast or you will get indigestion!’

The planning each team did was very meticulous but what stood out today was the time and effort to really showcase their ideas in their presentation. As a whole group we discussed some familiar faux pas: reading text from a screen, mumbling, etc and you can really see from the way that they presented that they took that on board. Some of their language choices were really professional (see below). On elf the teachers also told me how much she had enjoyed the day and that some fo the children who sometimes find it hard to engage in curriculum tasks for any length of time had astounded her in the way that they had simply stuck to their task today. I think that this is due to the principles on which we base our work and it is lovely to hear some feedback that seems to confirm that focussing on independent thinking, teamwork, problem solving and working to a time challenge (all desirable employability skills) pays off.

If you do nothing else tonight, marvel at the video below!

Back to Reality

IMG_1350It is easy to give out a load of VR kit and watch people enjoy themselves. We could easily do that here but we really would be missing a trick, losing the potential impact on life chances that we have when children re so engaged. So our VR/AR day is a mix of activities. During the morning we worked as a co-ordinated team overseen by two Mayoresses (Erin and Katie) to create a new settlement on a Goldilocks planet far in the future. Of course we can’t actually go there so Minecraft Education edition was the perfect substitute and a great opportunity to discuss how real world developments are often created in VR before a brick is ever laid. Being an essential cog in a well co-ordinated machine is a key part of teamwork and we discussed how effectively we had worked by the time we had created our new world.

After lunch we had more hands on using Google Expeditions, Oculus Go and the HTC Vive kit. Many of the children had never used this type of equipment before and it was important that we highlighted the use of such environments in real world applications as well as the fun gaming side. Forgetting to mention Teesside University’s world class reputation for courses focussed on this type of programming and design would have been a crime and was not missed! Acklam Whin, St Patrick’s and Saltburn children who attended today really seemed to enjoy their experiences but hopefully more than that they understand how important virtualisation is and will be in the future, potentially their futures.

No ‘I’ in TEAM

Another fab day here at Inspire2Learn with nearly 60 Y6 children from Ing Farm in Redcar. The focus was ‘Enterprise’ which we turn into an activity to complete a task given a set of certain guidelines in a given time. The underlying focus of the day are the teamwork skills that the children need to develop alongside their academic qualifications.

As usual we actually started the day with a discussion about what we meant by ‘teamwork’, writing down the key ideas on a Flipchart and referenced throughout the day. The children rose to it magnificently and when pressed to pick out the teams that had stood out in terms of teamwork, the staff were really struggling. All of the children can be very proud of themselves. Their engagement in the task and commitment to getting it done even when there seemed too much to do in so little time was brilliant and a great taste of what many of us feel in our day to day roles. The video is at the bottom showcasing what they managed to get finished for a simple advert but really the story of the day is told by the pictures that demonstrate how well the pupils undertook the tasks. One of the teachers commented on particular individuals who often can find their levels of resilience and engagement wane, in an hour, let alone a day, but today they focussed from start to finish. Many of the videos are not finished but I promised I would post what had been managed so far! Great work everyone and hopefully we will see you again soon:

Inspiring Girls

IMG_1182We have so many events here at the Centre every year where pupils meet and work with employers across many different sectors. It gives us a real insight into what has impact, what people tell us carries back into the classroom, what would work even better. Today we held our annual Inspiring Girls Day. Usually held on International Women’s Day, due to a diary issue we had it a day early. Maybe I should do that more often because the number and quality of speakers that made themselves available to talk about what they do and their journey in life was absolutely amazing.

We had nearly 120 girls from 7 different Tees Valley schools, from Year 8 and upwards  and what a fantastic future this area has if they are the calibre of our young people. St Peters, Abbey Hill, Northshore, Hillsview, Rye Hills, UCA and Huntcliff should be really proud of the way that the girls participated and showed huge enthusiasm. It is that type of engagement that will get them fantastic opportunities in the future. And that is what they heard about today. Attitude and commitment is everything.

IMG_1187One teacher pointed out one of her Y10s. Apparently the girl had to be really strongly persuaded to attend today. She didn’t like going to other places, she didn’t know people there and she wouldn’t like it, it had nothing to do with her. School is often a struggle for her but going somewhere else was not something she would normally agree to. The reason she was pointed out was that she sat absolutely transfixed and fully engaged in the fabulous opening presentation by Claire Preston. Using a really interactive way of engaging 120 girls in one of the most interesting and varied life stories I think I have ever heard had them absolutely in the palm of her hand. And for good reason. She spoke about opportunities, relationships, regrets, and success. Normally the Q&A is muted at best but we had some really interesting questions that showed how much the girls had been thinking about the situations that Claire spoke about. It set the scene for the day and I think the other presenters in the group sessions found a very open and engaged group of girls as a result. Thank you for the great start Claire.

So the girls got to visit each of the presenters for about 30mins. We had so many presenters that many doubled up or took a session each. This resulted in an impromptu ‘meet everyone’ session in the Auditorium at the end so that all the girls could see all the presenters and hear what they did for a minute or two. The thanks I have to give out go to: Katie Ventress (superstar artist in steel), Louise (BT and lover of maths!), Sarah McMann (HMRC and digital guru), Javeria & Suad (Teesside University Ambassadors), Janet & Janine (Middlesbrough College), Ketki & Becca (Accenture – international software company), Lauren (High Tide – working hard on the same agenda that we are), Loukia Kyriakidou (superstar games artist), Leanne (CUBIC – software systems for the world), Gabriella (GabriellaGrace Cakes), Emma Harbottle (MD of Analox sensing systems), Lily (Intelect), Bev & Rachael (Morrisons logistics and distribution) and last but not least Jessica (Atkins Engineering). And let’s not forget Julie from Inspiron Learning and Ann from the Assist network who help me organise volunteers. Now THAT is a list!

Comments from the teachers have been exemplary and focussed on how many questions it has generated from the girls that they brought. We couldn’t engage every girl in the Tees Valley today but alongside some of the other brilliant events going on this week, we think we have made a significant contribution. One of the teachers did point out that although they often have employers in school, the impact of a day like this, coming out of the school environment, mixing with other pupils from other schools, really bringing them out of their comfort zone, is priceless to her. She can’t build that sort of social capital and confidence in any other way. She said that most of the girls who came last year wore a bit less make up, had a few less issues in lessons and had better attendance after attending our event. I think she was the first to get booked this year!

I repeat myself on here most weeks: developing social and cultural capital is the bedrock on which achievement sits whether it’s in school or beyond. The growing research is clear and becoming extensive and it is getting pupils out of school, into the world, to meet people in events such as the ones we run, that will result in better life chances for all of them.

We are proud to do our part.

Happy International Women’s Day….er….tomorrow!

Linking Curriculum to the World of Work

Across all of the programme that we run here at the centre, these World of Work days I think are the purest manifestation of what the research tells us we should be doing more of to develop social and cultural capital. Today was Maths and we had brilliant help from Jim (PD Ports/Logistics Academy and RHA), Dannielle and Lily (PD Ports), Manuel (Middlesbrough College) and Tedy and Godley from Teesside University. The feedback on the day was as always excellent from the students and teachers who came from St Peter’s, UCA, Abbey Hill and Wyvern Academy. The sessions showed a huge range of applications of maths in both workplace thinking and also people’s private lives and the enthusiasm of the pupils reflected the engagement they had in each of the sessions.

What was also brilliant was that the context had clearly got some of the pupils thinking hard. Lindsey a Year 7 from St Peter’s asked me how we operated the finances at the centre, running in house catering and the room hire. She wanted an in depth understanding of how we use the money from that side of the business to support the not for profit work that we do with schools and the community. Such a great question and the sort of intelligent engagement that we would want in any prospective employee!

Scrapheap March 2019

What a brilliant group of pupils we have had today from Newcomen and St Benedicts Primaries. From the moment they walked in full of enthusiasm we knew that we were going to have a great day. Some of the team from TTE had popped in to see what the event was all about and they thoroughly enjoyed their brief visit, the start of many they believe…

As always the focus is on effective teamwork, working to a plan and then presenting their ideas effectively. The last bit will appear here about 3pm but you can see from the images below that the teamwork ethic is well and truly evident. Well done to everyone, such innovative ideas executed brilliantly.

And you can really see how committed they have been to bringing their ideas to life:

And here are the presentations:


And the start of a busy few weeks of activities is kicked off by one of our STEM boats days. We have some fabulous children from Catcote, Thornaby C of E and Layfield here today to take on the challenge. As ever the focus is on team skills and working effectively to solve a problem. The problem? How do you make the fastest sail boat with limited time and resources. Problem? What problem? After some skills work this morning the teams have now created their own designs and are in the process of testing different hull shapes and types of sail. The big test will be at 2pm when we run the boats down our 6m test track (big guttering pipe!) powered by a mighty typhoon…..well a fan anyway.

As you can see below the work ethic has been fabulous and because of where we are in the world the ease with which we have contextualised their work as engineers in terms of real businesses in the Tees Valley has been a big bonus. These children are now aware that tasks like these are the basis of the skillsets for many different local careers, engineering being one of them.

See for yourself:

And following the trend from the rest of the day, it seems that the top engineers were the ‘Queen of the Tees’ Team from Layfield Primary. If anyone doubts that girls aren’t great engineers you should have been here today, simply brilliant.

Valentine VEX

IMG_0892We run three VEX robotics events a year here kindly funded through the Cleveland Scientific Institute. Today we had the teams from eight schools working on a. series of Valentine themed challenges. The children were faced with decisions around which challenges to attempt in which order knowing it was unlikely they could do all but some challenges were more tricky but offered higher points scores! It was amazing what was achieved in the short time available. Even the teams building their robots from scratch managed to at least get them fully operational by the end of the day: no mean feat. You can see from the images below how engaged these children are and their resilience was tested to the limit. Every step of today required a focus on solving problems, identifying what was working, what was going wrong and how to move forward. These children did this magnificently and it was a real credit to the teachers that they provided encouragement, the odd word of advice but largely let the children work out issues for themselves. One or two did get quite competitive though: you know who you are! Our next event is in the Summer and we already have some new challenges planned for them.

Impact on Learning

I was asked yesterday, not unreasonably, ‘what impact do you have on young people in the area?’ I mentioned the number of pupils who come here (nearly 3000 now since September) and the number of obvious hits from home engaging parents that occur after each of our events. What I was unable to do was explain the direct impact on pupil progress or attitude to learning. In fact, very few people can. There is a lot of research suggesting that including creativity, authentic challenges, teamwork based learning, and employer engagement has a huge impact long term on pupil outcomes…..but I cannot hand on heart say that a child who is here today will be better off in their future life. The statistics suggest their day here will have that effect but proving that in numbers will take 20 years and involve so many variables as to be unreliable.

So what do we do here? Why bother putting in the huge time and effort with so many thousands of children every year? Well I wish you were here in the room with us today animating with Y1 and Y2 children from Oakdene and Newcomen. The buzz of activity, of excited teams all vying to get their film created in the short time they now have is palpable. As I type I have had to ask several children if they could give me a few moments to finish this while they continue with their animation. All they want to do is [roudly explain what they story is and how they will make it. They are so engaged in their learning it is a joy to watch. One of the teachers yesterday told me that it was days like this that ‘re-energise the children’s attitude to learning, and the teacher’s too’. In fact they are taking it in turns at their school to accompany the groups of children who come here in multiples of ten. Actually, that is how these sessions were originally conceived of. Teaching teachers how to use different approaches to learning in a creative and ‘off curriculum’ way. We have such large waiting lists, such fully booked days that clearly the demand is huge. And look at the pictures below. Positive attitudes to learning, resilience (they have failed and learned to succeed multiple times today), effective listening, working to a plan and all those other tacit team skills are part and parcel of what these children have been doing….explicitly because we constantly remind them about it all day long. The work they have produced is stunning; from a standing start of moving a letter across a table to creating short narratives with fixed backgrounds, a clear plan and even appropriately timed speech bubbles. They have risen to the challenge. They should be massively proud of themselves. I am proud to have had that impact on them.

Purposeful Animation

IMG_0794We love a challenge at Inspire2Learn and when an additional 30 children arrived this morning to an event booked for 60 we rose to it as a team! Once settled into the task though all the children from Acklam Whin, Newcomen and Chaloner Primaries have taken to their tasks magnificently. Working through the basics of the brilliant free app StopMotion, they quickly got to grips with frame rate, how much to move characters and how to create space for labels and speech. Usually we challenge the children to create a short story on these events but we always like to freshen things up and today’s challenge was to take something that they had been learning about in science and animate it. As usual, team work skills such as effective listening, effective planning and time management were focussed on to ensure that the children achieved what they had been tasked to do. And what creative ideas they came up with!

And here are some of the animations, some more finished than others!!! More to follow tomorrow.