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Local children challenged to ‘do the robot’ with University of Cambridge engineers

Over two days in January, Year 5 students from Teversham CofE VA and Fen Ditton Primary School were invited to get hands-on with STEM at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering and discover robotics and electronic engineering. The events aimed to introduce STEM subjects in a new light and allow the students to develop new practical skills as part of the Cambridge LaunchPad programme, which is managed by Form the Future CIC.

The students were challenged to use a LEGO Mindstorms Kit to build and programme a robot that could successfully move around a floorplan of a zoo and visit as many animals as possible. The day started with an introduction to the Mindstorms software and learning some of the robot’s capabilities, including playing sounds, recognising colours, pushing Lego bricks and even doing doughnuts!

One Year 5 student at Teversham Primary School enjoyed the challenge of using the software.

“I thought it would be really hard, but I think I’m good at programming now! I liked that everything was step by step so it was easy to learn. I don’t normally like maths but it was ok having to use it to make the robot do different stuff. I especially loved making the robot do doughnuts – it was so funny!”

Jess Bryan, Teacher at Fen Ditton Primary School, said

“It’s been a fab experience, which has provided the children with the opportunity to use resources that as a school we don’t have. The children were really engaged and utilising skills and materials that are prevalent to them, such as Lego, in a new way. It’s been great to open their eyes to STEM subjects, like engineering, and showing them possible opportunities for the future!”

Learning to code can help young people to think creatively, problem-solve and work well in a team – all core values within the Cambridge LaunchPad programme. The eight students that best demonstrated these skills  were selected to attend a prize trip alongside Year 4–6 students from other schools that are taking part in Cambridge LaunchPad this academic year.

Maria Kettle, Outreach Officer at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, shared her experience of STEM outreach activities.

“The Lego coding is easy for young students to get to grips with, so they can do quite advanced and clever challenges before they realise it’s hard. A lot of children’s science activities have no maths whatsoever, which may be part of the reason why older students can get turned off at GCSE or A-level. The maths in coding is prevalent and allows students to learn and use it in a new way.”

By introducing students to inspiring role models who are passionate about their careers and break gender stereotypes, they will be able to see that certain industries, like engineering and technology, can be accessible and offer a diverse range of job opportunities.

Molly Askham, STEM Outreach Events & Marketing Co-ordinator at Cambridge LaunchPad, want to inspire young people to embrace the challenge.

“We are thrilled to have the University of Cambridge Engineering Department on board with this year’s programme. The students from both schools displayed great enthusiasm and resilience when faced with solving problems. By using the Lego coding that allows students to start with the basics and build upon their software, hopefully we can show them that STEM subjects are not always as complicated as they may appear.

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