In 2015 Ysgol Glan y Mor used the Alu D&T Challenge for a Year 9 STEM project. STEM Leader Sue Quirk explains how they used the resources, and the impact it had on the students who took part.
Year 9 pupils at Ysgol Glan y Mor in South Wales took part in the Alu D&T Challenge as part of a collapsed curriculum day. Ninety pupils worked in teams to design a sustainable product using aluminium. We used the online materials to create a workbook and gathered a range of different products made from aluminium so that we could discuss product design and development. As a bit of fun I gave each team a roll of aluminium foil and challenged the teams to build the tallest free-standing structure they could in 10 minutes.
We invited representatives from local industry to talk to the students about working with aluminium. Anthony Douglas, from Tom Martin & Company, is an expert in recycling different grades of aluminium – buying and selling material for recycling from all around the world. He also happens to be a relative of one of my colleagues so is a very useful person to know! We also invited Thomas Hawken from a local building company Dawnus – they use aluminium in the construction of buildings. Both spent time talking to the children about aluminium, how it is manufactured and used by a wide variety of industries to make an amazing range of products and then can be recycled.
The students then worked in teams to choose one of the three design briefs set out in the Alu D&T Challenge. The briefs focus on creating a vehicle, building or package that is ‘sustainable’ thanks to the use of aluminium. The teams had to research their chosen product category, brainstorm their ideas and create initial designs – paying close attention to the 6R’s of sustainability within their design to ensure it had a manageable impact on the environment.
At the end of the day five teams of students were chosen to work up their designs in detail. They spent time in STEM club and working outside lessons in the school’s technology centre to perfect the drawings, create models and work on their final entry to the competition.
In the last week of term I drafted in additional help from Bryony Price, a former pupil. She was an excellent mentor to the students for the final stages of the project, as she was then in her final year of studying for a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough University. She spent a week working with the teams, helping them perfect their designs and uploading the entries to the competition website.
And we were winners!
Of the five entries the school submitted to the competition three were shortlisted for consideration by the judging panel. We had two winners and a runner up – a fantastic result! It was definitely a highlight of the year giving them the good news!
The 11 pupils were invited up to the celebration event, held at Thinktank Science Museum in Birmingham. That was a logistical challenge in itself, just finding a hotel with the right number of multiple rooms; but we got there and back in one piece! Here they met the judges and were presented with their prizes. I was so proud of the way our pupils coped with being in the spotlight, in front of an audience of senior people – directors of large companies with years of experience in industry. But they managed to talk with confidence about their designs; inspiring the audience with their enthusiasm for their ideas and sharing what they’d learned about aluminium. They were filmed and photographed throughout the day, but that didn’t seem to bother them – they flourished under the spotlight and they were fantastic ambassadors for our school.
A valuable experience
Winning a competition is a great experience, but the real value lies in what all the children who took part learned along the way. The Alu D&T Challenge allows students to work together on a project as part of a team: To share out tasks, brainstorm ideas and work on developing their designs. They need to manage their work to hit deadlines, communicate their ideas clearly and effectively, and demonstrate how they have met every aspect of the brief. Quite a challenge for a pupil in the early years of secondary school, but really valuable skills and the confidence they gained from being finalists, and then winners, is plain to see.
Of course for us teachers the pressure is now on – we have high standards to maintain, so I hope this year’s Year 9 is ready. I think the judges have great expectations from Ysgol Glan y Mor!