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Ultimate STEM Challenge 2016/17 Final

15 Mar 2017

Naomi Clarke, CaSE intern, attended the judging of this years’ Ultimate STEM Challenge at the Science Museum. Read about the inspirational KS3 future STEM professionals.

This Monday, on the first day of British Science Week 2017, the final of the 3rd annual Ultimate STEM Challenge took place at the Science Museum, the most visited museum for school groups in the UK. This national competition is organised by BP, the Science Museum and STEM Learning. It is a fantastic opportunity for any school in the nation to inspire students to explore STEM subjects in more detail, rousing creativity, curiosity and ability.

Any school could enter one, or multiple, teams of two to four students from Key Stage 3 (aged 11-14) – in fact; one school had two teams make it to the final. Hundreds of schools entered the competition by creating a PowerPoint or YouTube video showcasing their work on their chosen challenge. Only 12 teams made it to the final, an event that buzzed with young STEM minds, making the future of STEM look very bright indeed for the UK.

There were three challenge options provided by the BP Education Service: ‘Rescue Rockets’, ‘Future Flight’ and ‘Auto Arms’. These all focused on real life engineering problems that need solutions. They were designed to attract all students, not just those with a burgeoning interest in STEM, to think creatively. This outcome that was clearly successful as the students at the event all had diverse interests and passions.

The teams and their teachers all travelled to the Science Museum in London and presented their findings (with a strict three minute maximum) to a large room of STEM professionals and a panel of four expert judges. The panel was made up by Simon Webster, a Chief Engineer at BP, Yvonne Baker, CEO of STEM Learning, Tom O’Leary, Director of Learning at the Science Museum and Rose Russell, the Art and Design Technician at Ursuline Academy Ilford. The presentations were followed by a science fair where each team set up a self-made stall detailing their project, enabling the judges and audience members to delve deeper, asking probing questions before the final judging. This was no mean feat, especially since some teams had travelled from Northern Ireland, waking up at 4am to get to the event! The fair was also an excellent change for the students to talk to STEM professionals, finding out more about the world of STEM work.

The standard of presentations and stalls was incredibly high. Most teams strictly followed a university level academic structure, presenting their aim, hypothesis, method, variable, data, conclusion and evaluation in a timely and professional manner. Vital areas such as risk assessment, future improvements and changes and environmental impacts were thought through and discussed. The variety within and between the teams was also incredibly heartening to see: schools from all over the country and teams of mixed boys and girls and mixed year groups.

The winning team was a group of three girls from Bredon Hill Academy in Worcestershire. They were inspired while watching David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II by the wings of the draco lizard and used this to develop a fantastically creative solution for the ‘Future Flight’ challenge. They took home £500 for their school, which they could spend on improving their project and share around the STEM departments. There were also special mentions for two teams and separate prizes for ‘Best Stand’ at the science fair and ‘Creative Thinking’. All students had a fantastic day and spent the afternoon exploring the Science Museum’s new Wonderlab gallery (so really, everyone was a winner).

Overall the day was inspiring, for the attending adults and children! There was a large emphasis on how STEM subjects can change the world for the better, making a better future – audience members were asked to tweet how STEM could do this.

Competitions like these will no doubt help to close the skills gap for subjects such as engineering, physics and computer science. They create an environment for students to explore and expand their STEM skills, and to quote judge Rose Russell: ‘If you want to raise the standards, you enter a competition’. On that note, let’s get competing!