The Bright Ideas Challenge – now in its second year – is an exciting cross-curriculum linked competition that invites secondary students, aged 11-14, to use their STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills to come up with ingenious and exciting new ways to power future cities.
By 2050 it’s predicted Earth will be home to a population of over nine billion people . And of these, two-thirds will live in cities, up from about a half of people today . According to the United Nations, this huge rise in population means that by 2050 we’re going to need around 50% more energy, 60% more food and 40% more fresh water .
Shell is inviting students to apply their problem solving skills and creative thinking to come up with ideas to ensure future cities are powered to be vibrant, healthy and clean places to live.
So what’s the reward? With 12 prizes of £1,500 up for grabs and a total of £5,000 for the national winner, there is every reason for schools across Great Britain to rise to the challenge. Winning teams will also enjoy the once in a lifetime experience of a fully funded trip to Make the Future Live, a festival of ideas and innovations hosted by Shell in London, in spring 2017.
Schools today are challenged to increase the engagement of young people in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects alongside ever decreased budgets and a full and challenging curriculum to cover. Many students fail to see the relevance of studying science unless you are going to be a “scientist” and engineering has stereotypical connotations of boiler suits and dirty hands.
Yet, we as educators – just like leaders in business – have a real responsibility to encourage more young people to consider STEM careers. Not only because so many more of them have the ability but because at the moment there’s a huge shortage of talent pursuing these careers. If we allow that trend to continue not only will we harm our standing within the world as a leading innovator, we will also compromise our ability to tackle some of the huge global challenges that lie ahead.
I believe the key to motivating young people to pursue STEM learning further is to provide them with opportunities in the curriculum to be creative, to tackle real life challenges and to be inspired by people already working in exciting jobs. They have to see their learning applied in ways that fire their imaginations about the practical application of STEM theory.
Planning opportunities for these very open-ended creative tasks can be a challenge for schools who are focused on course coverage and raising attainment and often these opportunities arise in lunch or after school clubs. That’s where corporate created and sponsored challenges have such a valuable role to play.
Challenges like the Shell Bright Ideas Challenge offer teaching staff a well researched, slickly packaged set of resources that are ready to just press the button on. In today’s pressured teaching environment the value of that can’t be underestimated.
Last session 244 of our S2 pupils took part in The Bright Ideas Challenge. As the challenge was about tackling issues facing our future society it inspired pupils who may not have seen themselves as scientists or engineers but who are imaginative, creative problem solvers. The use of video messages from Shell to introduce the challenge made the real life context clear for the students. Many had no idea that the types of career roles profiled in the videos even existed but you could see it sparked renewed enthusiasm in STEM in many of them!
We’ve also taken part in the F1 in schools competition – another great example of gaining insights into a world that has the ability to inspire a different type of student to consider a STEM career. In this challenge our teams did everything from learning about high end manufacturing to financing and marketing their team and liaising with sponsors. That depth of insight into real world application is so vital to inspiring our future scientists.
Similarly events like Shell’s Make the Future London festival at the Olympic Park – which we were invited to as finalists in The Bright Ideas Challenge – bring STEM to life in ways that will stay with our students for a long time, from eating food cooked on a BBQ powered by used coffee, to interactive science shows, running in a zorb to power a kettle and meeting a maths celebrity – Rachel Riley!
And of course the money is hugely motivating too. By becoming finalists in the Shell Bright Ideas Challenge our Project Future team won £1500 to spend on STEM resources – something that will make a huge difference to the interactivity of the lessons that we can provide and that has made the team feel hugely proud of the contribution they’ve been able to make to school life. We’ll make the decision on what to spend the money on part of an all school vote as it’s so important that the positive impact of winning challenges like this is felt by all students.
Challenges have a really positive role to play in schools. They support teachers in bringing theory to life, inspire students to make the connection between STEM theory and help foster softer skills such as team work, creativity and problem solving. Above all, they help inject a new level of enthusiasm and energy into the classroom that is always welcome!
Zoe Thomson is deputy headteacher at Woodmill High School, Dunfermline