Inspiring the next STEM generation in Sheffield

A photo of IDCMC Activity

This post was originally published in MechEng News Issue 16 (April 2018)

"Not just fun, super fun!" was the glowing endorsement of children taking part in a session with Discovery STEM Education and volunteers from the University of Sheffield this British Science Week.

And fun is definitely the objective at Discovery STEM Education, a not for profit organisation based at Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield.

Dr Melissa Butt set up the organisation to inspire the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians - a project that the Department of Mechanical Engineering and our doctoral training centres IDC Machining Science and iT-CDT are proud to support.

Through bespoke enrichment days, after-school clubs, holiday clubs and workshops for those in home education, Discovery STEM Education brings science, maths, engineering and technology to life for children right across the city. They also run practical GCSE science tuition sessions and surgical skills courses for A-level students that support young people to reach their full potential in their GCSEs and University applications.

"Our aim is to engage young people from all backgrounds in exciting STEM activities and open their minds to a variety of careers. We are very proud to have an equal mix of boys and girls engaging in our sessions, as well as an ethnic mix and SEN cohort representative of Sheffield's population," explains Melissa.

"We have a strong belief that role models are very important to improve engagement in STEM subjects and the opportunity to work with enthusiastic engineering colleagues from the University has clearly inspired many of our budding engineers over the past few weeks."

These role models included colleagues specialising in machining and tribology who joined the team at Discovery STEM Education to take part in the experiments and answer the many insightful questions the children had for them.

"It's great to welcome colleagues from the University. They're great ambassadors for STEM and opportunities like this help our young people to explore and understand engineering and how it is relevant to the world around them," adds Amanda Childs, Project Development Manager.

"Today we've been working with impact testers, and measuring how much force is needed to break spaghetti and chocolate - experimenting with different thicknesses and temperatures to see how much they'll take before breaking.

"It's been messy and fun and the kids have been inspired to measure, record and analyse data. They've extended their understanding of experimental protocol because they wanted to get better data and find a conclusion, rather than because they were told to".

Royce Copley who is studying at iT-CDT and has been taking part in the outreach sessions said:

"I found my time with Discovery STEM Education very rewarding on a personal level and the groups I encountered really impressed me with their approach, understanding and knowledge - with just a small push in the right direction, they took off and created some very cool results and conclusions!

"I hope that the children I met continue with their energy and enthusiasm and can one day join us in doing this job for real. I'm right behind the idea of STEM outreach and especially STEM for girls. In just a few hours with Discovery STEM Education I met many talented girls who I hope will keep up their interest in science and maths and let nothing and no-one convince them that STEM subjects aren't for everyone."

Sessions are also playing an important role in helping children of all backgrounds to engage with STEM and use it as an opportunity to help overcome personal hurdles.

"We work with children from a wide range of backgrounds," explains Amanda. "The chance to come here and take part in our activities not only helps them to learn more about science, maths, engineering and technology but it can also help them to develop their confidence and skills such as problem-solving and teamwork. It is amazing to see how kids can come out of their shell when they are inspired by what they are learning and we've had examples of that today."

Professor Matt Marshall, Director of Recruitment and Admissions at the Faculty of Engineering helped to establish links between the project and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IDC Machining Science and iT-CDT.

"We're really proud to support Discovery STEM Education and their mission to bring STEM to life for children across the city. By helping children of all backgrounds to explore and experience science and engineering, we can inspire and motivate the next generation - supporting young people to become the Sheffield engineers, scientists, technologists and mathematicians who will shape our future and take on some of the world's biggest challenges."

Here's to breaking more spaghetti!

A photo of IDCMC Activity

To find out more about Discovery STEM Education, visit their website or follow on Twitter @Discovery_STEM_ and Facebook at 'Discovery STEM Education'.

For more about outreach activity across the University of Sheffield visit:

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