Discovering engineers in the making
By Dr Katie Grant, Student Recruitment and Outreach Officer
It has been a busy couple of months here at the School of Engineering with two exciting Primary Engineer celebration events being hosted in the Sanderson Building.
First off: what exactly is Primary Engineer? Well, Primary Engineer is a not-for-profit educational organisation founded by the wonderful Susan Scurlock MBE in 2005. Their goal is to engage children and young people with engineering, and help teachers develop their engineering proficiency – through nationwide competitions and connecting schools with engineers in industry and academia.
It is an exceptional organisation with many great success stories that the School of Engineering has been proud to support for a number of years. This year we supported two of their flagship projects: If you were an engineer what would you do? and the Rail Project.
If you were an engineer, what would you do?
This is a competition run each year by Primary Engineer that engages primary and secondary school pupils across the UK. The pupils are given the chance to interview an engineer or technology professional, and then asked to think of a problem (big or small) and given complete creative freedom to design a solution.
Once they have drawn out their design and written a short letter to support their entry, it is sent off to a panel of engineers, who shortlist the best entries for judging day. Our School hosted one such judging day in April. Having been on the panel I can confirm it was an exceptionally difficult task as the quality of entries was so high!
In June, the winning and highly commended pupils from each year group were invited to our School for an awards ceremony along with their classmates, teachers and families. It was a brilliant evening where the guests and our staff viewed the shortlisted entries, before highly commended and winning pupils were presented with certificates and trophies.
There was also one overall winner from the region chosen by the judging panel – Isla, a primary 7 pupil from Leith Walk Primary School in Edinburgh, whose design looked to reduce deforestation by using fallen leaves to manufacture paper – an inspiring idea that had the judging panel very excited!
Shimmy, shimmy shower
At the awards ceremony, a prototype was also unveiled for the Shimmy, Shimmy Shower – a design created for last year’s competition by Erin, a primary 6 pupil from Bankton Primary School in Livingston. Erin’s design was selected by our technical staff Iain Gold, Steven Gourlay and Alasdair Christie for being particularly inspiring and carrying potential as a real-world invention.
Erin had come up with the idea after identifying a problem in her own household: her gran couldn’t reach the shower head after someone else had left it too high up. Her Shimmy, Shimmy Shower involves a remote-controlled unit which could easily move the shower head up and down and side to side.
Our technical team visited Erin and her teacher, so that she could get involved in the building and prototyping process, and at the awards ceremony they presented a fully functioning prototype to Erin and her family. What was extra special about Erin’s story was that this type of product is not on the market and is very novel – showing how much innovation can come from the school children we work with!
The Rail Project
The second initiative we support is the Rail Project, which provides teachers and pupils with creative, practical projects using rail engineering as the vehicle. The Rail Project engages schools across the UK, and our School works with 15 schools across Fife, Edinburgh and the Lothians and the Borders.
Each participating school is partnered with an engineer from our School who supports them through the project. Younger primary school pupils build a car made out of a shoebox, and the older primary school pupils build battery operated trains fabricated from cardboard and wood.
Steve Gourlay was one of the technicians working with teachers and students on the project and shared his experience of volunteering with Nether Currie Primary School last year:
I was partnered with teacher Mr Stephen McHarg and the primary 3 pupils of Nether Currie Primary School. Also joining us from the School of Engineering was PhD Student Filip Taneski.
“The primary 3 pupils built simple trains to run along a wooden track, which they decorated in their own creative style, with some very colourful results. The primary 7 trains were more involved, incorporating a small electric motor to drive the wheels. This introduced them to and gave them an understanding of simple electric circuits.
“We discussed as a group how to interpret the design brief given by Primary Engineer, before setting up workstations and supporting the pupils with several measuring, cutting and joining techniques. The pupils then assembled their finished trains, with us on hand to guide them.
“The pupils did incredibly well and the feedback from the teachers was extremely positive. The teachers commented on how unusually focused and engaged the pupils were during the practical tasks.
“I found this programme to be not only good fun working with the pupils but found it very rewarding to help provide such a positive message, encouraging pupils to get interested in STEM through a practical engineering task.
After completing the project, the teachers and their pupils were invited back to our School in June for a Rail Project celebration event, where the top-performing cars or trains were tested out. Each pupil or team of pupils was also interviewed by two engineers, to talk through the design and build process, as well as an opportunity to ask tricky questions of our experts!
Awards were handed out at the end of the day to those with the highest scores, and for best communication and best design. A particularly memorable design was the RyanAir train – whose design was inspired by its real-life namesake, created by a child who wanted to make planes in the future.
Overall, it has been another brilliant year working with Primary Engineer and our engineers and technical staff have got so much out of working with the teachers and pupils. The southeast of Scotland has so many inspiring and talented future engineers in the making!