STEM challenge proves towering success

Student accomplishment in an IET Faraday challenge day shows the importance of going beyond the textbook when learning STEM subjects

Year 8 students at Highgate School saw their initiative and resourcefulness pushed to the limit recently, participating in an IET Faraday Challenge Day. Exercising their engineering, electronics and coding skills, the pupils were set the challenge of firstly constructing a tower from little more than pipe cleaners, wires and cardboard tubes. Nonetheless, they included many recognisable engineering techniques to create something that was more than capable of performing the task.

Andrew Thomson, Director of Design Technology & Engineering at Highgate School, is an advocate for the importance of engaging young people in science and STEM subjects. In his words: “We had already covered many of the themes this year but they were put across in a different way and I could see that for many of them it really clicked.”

Practical experiments, such as those used by Faraday, illustrate the utility of science and engineering subjects in the real world, beyond textbooks.In completing the IET Faraday Challenge Day, the students came away with a clear understanding of how a strong grasp of maths is not only necessary to calculate costs for construction projects but also plays an essential role combined with physics when calculating loads, forces and structures.

Mr Thompson has subsequently used the Faraday challenge to shape his wider teaching. He said: “Having learnt so much on the original challenge day I thought it a waste not to allow some of my other year groups to share in the experience. Using the online Faraday resources I set up my own lesson plan, a DIY Faraday Challenge Day, which I have been able to adapt for different age groups.”

In setting a similar challenge to one of his Year 4 classes, Andrew was amazed at how well they took to it and grasped some of the key principles, despite being initially devised for much older students. Some of the students even had a go at devising their own code in an attempt to improve on Morse code. One ingenious solution a student devised was based around using coloured sheets of plastic, changing the colour of the light to develop her own alphabet of light signals.

Inspired by the challenge day, Highgate School have taken steps to become a host school for future challenge days, not just in design technology but across other STEM subjects.