Adrian's blog


2019 has been a very hectic and positive year for CCITE and iSTEM+ so far.

In October 2018 the Design & Technology Association DATA launched its EEGC funded project Engineering Solutions: Bringing Design & Coding to Life to introduce BBC micro:bits into 10 primary schools in Stoke-on-Trent with Year 5/6 classes using them for sensing and control, aka physical computing. This was supported by the Micro:bit Educational Foundation MEF. It came to a successful finish in June with a Celebration Event in which pupils demonstrated what they had achieved and teachers reported on their new found confidence with IT.

In December, Graham Hastings hosted a meeting at St John's College School in Cambridge with Tony Houghton from CCITE, John Beer from Downham Market's ESTEAM Centre and me, to discuss building on the Stoke experience with under-privileged rural and coastal primary schools supported by ARM's Schools program and the Computing At School Group CAS, using a scheme of work devised by Graham. This project is now under way in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. ARM is also sponsoring the development of the STEM Centre in Downham Market which had a soft launch, supported by RAF Marham, in May. Since January we have also been working with the South African XinaBox company on exciting new developments in data-logging equipment for schools either free-standing or using Raspberry Pi or micro:bit technology.

Last July the gSTEM team at Gomer Junior School in Gosport, Hants, won the TES STEM Team of the Year Award 2018. The school also hosted visits by the then DfE's Skills' Minister, Anne Milton, and the Schools' Minister, Nick Gibb. Gomer is part of the Gosport and Fareham MAT which is one of the 15 national pilot centres for the Tomorrow's Engineers' Enthuse Partnerships with STEM Learning.

On March 1st Damian Hinds opened the new Gosport STEM Centre in the Bay House School Sports Centre in Gosport, the first of its kind in England. The Executive Head of GFM, Georgina Mulhall, was also recently interviewed for the TES about its successful implementation of the iSTEM+ strategy.

At the beginning of the year I was asked to help a small rural primary school in the Sussex village of Funtington to help them improve STEM opportunities for its pupils. We decided to start with BBC micro:bits at Year 5/6 along the lines of the Stoke and East Anglian models. Our local BetaPlus Computer Club donated £300 to the school to buy a set of micro:bits and kit. We decided to start a micro:bit Code Club to train up a group of six Year 5/6 pupils to be in a position to act as classroom student teaching assistants to introduce micro:bits to the whole class after the Summer half-term. The group quickly developed skills in writing programs for micro:bits using the MakeCode blocks editor.

Just before Easter I introduced them to the ELECFREAKS Ring:bit car kits which they built and learned to program by themselves. They developed a synchronised disco-dancing group of cars, and also used them with felt tip pens to create geometric drawings. They also learned how to use gestures with hand-held micro:bits to remotely control the cars. I bought them a set of Joystick:bits which they also learned to use. The Code Club now has its own website and YouTube channel, and has started to teach lessons with micro:bits to their peers.

On July 3rd the group was invited to be one of the 5 UK schools presenting their STEM projects at the annual Celebration event for the Royal Academy of Engineering's Connecting STEM Teachers CST UK network. Their dancing cars demo was warmly applauded and appears on Twitter as a video clip. They were presented with certificates of Achievement by the IET's Head of Education, David Lakin. They were also thrilled to be given a guided tour of the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition in the afternoon.

I have been working with RAEng's Education Programmes Manager, Scott Atkinson, to set up a new CST network for Sussex which was launched in the Autumn at the University of Chichester's newly opened Tech Park in Bognor Regis. We had a very well attended meeting on February 27th were I talked about the Stoke project, demonstrated micro:bits and MakeCode and offered to run free on-site workshops in Sussex primary and secondary schools. Among the attendees were a group of Heads and teachers from the 15 rural primary schools in the Rother Valley cluster who took me up on the offer.

I have been given the great opportunity to teach the whole Year 5/6 Beech class at Northchapel Primary School for three half-days this term (about 7 hours) finishing last week with a session on using servos for model railway level-crossing gates, as well with the Ring:bit cars, which they learned to program both as autonomous vehicles and using a second micro:bit for remote control. On 25th October I have been invited to lead a half-day Professional Development session with the staff of the 15 Rother Valley Primary cluster schools on micro:bits as catalysts for cross-curricular STEM activities.

On June 4th the RAEng organised an Inter-school challenge day at the Bourne Community College in West Sussex. I was asked to run a practical activity with the Ring:bit cars as part of a circus of stands which the schools were scheduled to visit. The Bourne has a very active STEM Club and a great group of Student STEM Ambassadors, some of whom were allocated to help the circus leaders. I was allocated a great pair of Year 10 girls. They watched me struggle with our first 20 minute session, and then polish it up for the second. I was then able to ask them if they felt like running the nest couple of sessions by themselves – which they did with aplomb.

One of the upshots from these sessions was that both the Gosport & Fareham MAT and the Bourne have ordered sets of 30 Ring:bit cars which they have already introduced at KS3. We are now planning to work with some of these local schools on an international project, code-named SMILES (Schools Making Inspirational Learning Environments for STEM) using XinaBox, micro:bit and Raspberry Pi technology.

I am actively involved with the IET’s Solent and Sussex networks. We have been piloting a new scheme of KS2 Engineering & Technology Masterclasses in two West Sussex primary schools: 20 students from Rose Green Junior and 12 from Funtington Primary. The 90 minute sessions are held one afternoon each week in normal timetable time. We have learned together how to use a range of free, powerful, STEM tools including GeoGebra, Algodoo, Tracker, Logger Lite, Scratch 3, MakeCode and TinkerCAD.

First they learn basic use of the tool. Then they use it to tackle some problems I set them. But most importantly, they then have ample time to find creative use of the tools using their own imagination. Initially they ask me for help, but quickly realise that (a) I may well not know the answer and (b) I cannot give each individual the personal attention they might like in the time available. So together we form a learning community, helping each other, and using their IT skills to seek answers to our questions.

We are very much putting into practice the thinking behind the RAEng’s `Learning to be an Engineer’ work and its Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoMs). The IET has kindly presented certificates of achievement to the Masterclass students at both Rose Green and Funtington.

On July 12th I was invited to give the opening keynote on Technology-enhanced STEM learning Activities (TeSLA) to a conference in Cardiff of 100 Welsh maths teachers. I was able to draw on the experience and tools from the KS2 Masterclasses and to show progression in how the same and similar tools can be used at KS3/4/5 as well.

I represent the IET on the parliamentary Digital Policy Alliance, and its 21stC Skills Network. We had a round table meeting, chaired by Lord Ralph Lucas, in the House of Lords on July 17th. Digital skills has rather dropped from the agenda in the political turmoil before today’s change at Number 10. We await with interest to find who will be the members of new ministerial teams at DBEIS, DDCMS and DfE, and to offer them advise on providing better digital, STEM and 21stC skills opportunities for all learners. We are also hoping to discuss with Ofsted ways in which the new inspection framework could help that provision. A draft position paper is available here.

The developments started in East Anglia, and now being developed in Hampshire and Sussex, for improving STEM education and skills, as well as raising aspiration, in rural and coastal communities are very exciting indeed. They match well with the Digital Access For All DAFA initiative led by the Learning Foundation and the Nominet Trust. I am now a member of the GFM Business Forum helping that MAT develop a new curriculum for the 21st Century including themes such as Careers & Employability, Sports & Well Being, STEM & Business, Arts & Culture and Artificial Intelligence.

Rose Green Masterclass IET presentation

MakeCode simulation

Code club at RAEng