STEM Challenge 2019: Shropshire students get their thinking caps on

Young engineers of the future have been given the chance to put their classroom lessons to the ultimate test in a challenge launched for school pupils in Shropshire.

The Shropshire Star has launched the STEM Challenge 2019 – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths – in order to boost student engagement with these key topics and also to give them an understanding of how what they learn in the classroom will play a vital role in future careers.

The competition is forging valuable links between local businesses and schools, while also providing students with an insight into the world of industry and the opportunities it provides.

This is the second year Midlands News Association (MNA), the publisher of the Shropshire Star, has held the challenge.

Last year, a joint initiative was run between the Shropshire Star and sister title the Express & Star – but the scheme proved so successful that challenges are now being held from both newspapers.

Each Shropshire school signed up to the challenge is partnered with a mentor from businesses or organisations involved in industry.

Schools have been asked to design a product using the elements of STEM that has a positive benefit to an individual/group and the environment, or just the environment.

The teams of pupils will then need to demonstrate their product or prototype as a working model at a presentation on July 4, 2019 at the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology, the associate sponsor hosting the event.

There are seven team prizes to be won including: Best Work Plan, sponsored by EPSON; Best Presentation, sponsored by Avara Foods; Best Team Work, sponsored by Telford & Wrekin Council; Best Operating Model, sponsored by Protolabs; Best Entrepreneurial Team, sponsored by Ironbridge Gorge Museums; and Business Champion, sponsored by Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance.


There will also be a Mentor Recognition Award, sponsored by The Careers and Enterprise Company as well as an award for the overall winner, judged by the headline sponsor, DENSO.

The mentors, who have all been given formal STEM training, will visit the schools regularly between now and July to work with the teams to monitor progress and also provide support where needed.

Each school involved in the challenge will receive £100 to help buy materials and fund their design.

This year’s challenge was announced by Martin Wright, editor of the Shropshire Star, and Malcolm Eyre, of Entrust STEM educational support and the lead ambassador of the STEM Challenge, at a launch event held at Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology yesterday.

Mr Wright, said: “The last campaign was a huge success so we decided to do it again, but this time we split it into two, one for the Shropshire Star and one for our sister paper, the Express & Star.

“For a number of us we really did not know what to expect from the teams taking part in last year’s competition but the standard of work produced blew us away – we were expecting cardboard boxes and elastic bands and how wrong we were.

“We’re sure that our next group of inventors will produce work of a similarly high standard.

“The challenge starts running now right through until the summer where our teams will be judged in all of our categories.

“Over the six months we want the teams to plan their project to manufacture a product or prototype reflecting the challenge.

“In the design and manufacture we need to see the real application of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – after all, this is what the campaign is about, and teams must make sure the product has a positive benefit. We look forward to seeing everyone back here at Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology on the judging and awards day in July where teams will showcase their projects to all of our judges.”

Among the schools taking part is Mary Webb School and Science College, in Pontesbury, which has been partnered with Western Power Distribution.

Teacher Chris Thorley, said: “We’ve worked on STEM projects before in our school and it has had an obvious benefit for the students. We’re delighted to be part of the challenge this year and we can’t wait to get started on this and find out what our students are capable of given the opportunity.

“It’s important students are given that vital link between learning in schools and applying what they have learnt to industry related projects and real life ideas, without it many students may not really know what’s ahead of them and what the industry can offer and provide.”

Malcolm Eyre, of Entrust STEM educational support, said: “Our STEM ambassadors are the key way of enthusing young people into working in STEM careers in the future and we are looking to bring real life projects into the school curriculum.


“This is important because if children are stimulated by something, find it interesting and find it’s connected to real life, their endeavours are so much better.

“What this challenge is going to provide over the next six months is exactly that, a real life scenario, real life support from the industry outside of schools and a link and mentor that will help these young people – along with the funding that a lot of schools can’t afford at the moment to provide something extra. As far as we’re concerned, this marks the start of something very special for the young people in our care.

“It’s something that we as a group will be proud about and we will know that we’ve made an impact among these young people and I know those who have not been involved previously will enjoy the experience.

“Young people will get a tremendous amount out of this and they will give us all a lot back as well.”

Schools will now put together teams of students to work with their industry mentors and come up with a design to fit the given challenge.

Reports and updates of teams’ progression and ideas will be monitored by their mentors throughout the project before the final judging on July 4.

Ex-teacher provides vital links

One of the lead ambassadors for the 2019 STEM Challenge will be Malcolm Eyre, of Entrust.

The company works with STEM ambassadors across Shropshire and Staffordshire.

During the challenge, Malcolm will act as a link between schools and their mentors, providing support as each project progresses.

He will act as a liaison throughout the challenge and encourage pupils to pursue a career involving STEM. With more than 20 years of teaching experience in high schools across Staffordshire, specialising in design and technology, he is based at the Staffordshire STEM centre.

“My role is to link the schools and the companies together,” he said. “As I have an expertise in STEM I’m looking after this project but also STEM learning on a national level. We aim to get the children inspired in schools to do projects in STEM and hopefully then to progress into these careers later on in their life.”

Companies from all across the West Midlands have given their expertise to aid the teams along the challenge. Mr Eyre added: “The companies we’re working with are very valuable in that they’re offering the children real life opportunities, real life problem solving and an understanding of how things work in the real world. These are the things that inspire children and give them the opportunity to look at what they can do after school.

“If we can expose these companies to children and vice-versa, I know companies will realise the potential of our talented youngsters and will want to include them in their future, and young people will want to get involved.”

Keen problem-solving students

One of the many schools taking part in this year’s STEM Challenge is Mary Webb School and Science College, based in Pontesbury.

Helping its team of student-engineers will be its dedicated partner and mentors, Western Power Distribution.

Chris Thorley, a teacher from the school who will oversee the team, said: “I’m going to be looking after the team of six pupils that will put together the school’s entry.

“We do a lot of STEM at our school anyway and always find it’s an amazing thing to bring to the pupils.

“We’ve got a lot of students who are really interested in coming up with different solutions and it just gives them the creativity to come up with individual ideas that you would never think of in a million years without giving it to the children to do. We’re really excited to get involved with this challenge – the last STEM project we did at school was making eco-hotels and it was amazing.

“The students were going off on their own and coming up with ideas so it was really great to see them so involved.”

After taking part in the challenge last year, Western Power Distribution will give guidance and support, visiting the school over the coming months to help the school’s project and overcome any design and technology issues.

Andy Pashley, a planner at Western Power Distribution, said: “We’re going to be mentoring and helping the school along. We’ll give the team support with their ideas.”

Joint collaboration vital for success

Many young people do not understand the opportunities that exist out there without challenges like this, says the programme manager for youth unemployment and enterprise co-ordinator for Telford & Wrekin Council, Kim Hodgetts.

As one of the sponsors of the challenge, the council will be sponsoring and focusing on the award for Best Team Work.

Kim said: “I make sure students are getting valuable business engagement and that students are prepared fully for their future careers. As a local authority we are very keen to support all of the activity involving STEM, so that’s why we decided to sponsor this event.

“It meets so many things that schools need to do that will not only help businesses develop and grow, but hopefully help our students achieve better careers in the future. Many of our young people don’t understand the opportunities that exist out there, they don’t know the local businesses that exist and they don’t know the career developments they can make.

“A lot of the time we’re training our young people for jobs that don’t even exist these days.

“For those reasons STEM is such a key part of our economy.

“There are lots of jobs that are coming up in STEM and without the business engagement and challenges like this, it wouldn’t inspire the students.

“To do the hands on activities this provides is great and will help in making those business connections that are really important in a successful career. It’s got to be a joint path and joint collaboration.”

By Rory Smith
Reporter – @rorysmith_star

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