Robotics students turn master to create STEM skills legacy

Students have turned teacher as part of an exciting robotics project designed to create a legacy in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).

The pilot scheme in Newmarket, a collaboration between West Suffolk Council, BT Adastral Park and Newmarket Academy, and supported by Orbit housing, has been created to try to combat a national shortage of people with skills in STEM subjects which makes it difficult for employers to recruit the staff that they need.

Part of the reason for the shortage may be the lack of opportunities for primary school students to experiment, enjoy and develop their interest in science, technology and engineering through fun things such as robotics.

The initiative saw 10 Newmarket Academy students master robotics coding and programming late last year under the instruction of trainers from the BT Adastral Park’s Schools Outreach.

Those 10 volunteers were selected because of their interest in computer science. Now they have helped BT teach those coding and programming skills to students from Houldsworth Valley Primary Academy and Paddocks Primary School, in Newmarket.

Houldsworth Valley Primary Academy pupils Ben Randall and Pattadon Suriyan with West Suffolk councillor Robert Everitt

As well as teaching the students, the robotics programme is also designed to empower primary school teachers so that they have the skills and knowledge to carry on teaching and inspiring young students’ interest in coding, programming and other STEM subjects. The robots themselves have been funded by West Suffolk Council and Orbit. They have been given to Newmarket Academy and will be made available to academy students and to all Newmarket primary schools.

Robert Everitt, Cabinet Member for Families and Communities at West Suffolk Council, said: “The aim of this project is to spark a passion in STEM subjects from a much earlier age than we do currently. We don’t, however, want this to be a one off – we want to create a legacy that will benefit education, that will benefit class after class of students and that through doing will benefit local business and employment.”

Susan Glossop, Cabinet Member for Growth at West Suffolk Council, said: “We hope it will mean that more young people continue with these subjects as they progress with their education and that more take up these highly skilled, higher paid jobs making it easier for businesses to find the staff they need to grow here in West Suffolk, and further supporting the success of the local economy.”

Lucy McGovern, Senior Placemaking and Partnerships Manager at Orbit, said: “We are pleased to support the growth of these skills in our communities through Newmarket schools, as we fully recognise the importance of Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths to the success of our economy.”

John Hollick, a teacher at Houldsworth Valley Primary Academy, said: “The children loved making the robots light up, programming them to move to a set of instructions and eventually race against each other. It was a great introduction into coding and programming, teaching this important subject in a fun and exciting way and we look forward to building upon this experience.”

Abigail Taylor, a teacher at Paddocks Primary School, said: “It was brilliant for our pupils to have the opportunity to learn these new skills, working with the Academy, BT and the council. It’s a great way to develop children’s interest in these important subjects from an early age in a way that is enjoyable and memorable, and we look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Helen Harridge, teacher of Science at Newmarket Academy, said: “These are the first of Newmarket’s primary schools that we have worked with on this robotics project and we hope others will follow. We pride ourselves on working to benefit the education not just of the students we have in the academy now, but those that may eventually come here from our local primary schools.  For our students, this presents a wonderful opportunity to mentor younger pupils and a great volunteering experience for their CVs all of which builds confidence and further illustrates the academy’s culture of students that care and look out for others.”

Lisa Perkins, Director of Adastral Park and Research Realisation at BT, said: “We are delighted to be working with West Suffolk Council and Newmarket Academy. BT is committed to providing 10 million people across the UK with digital skills training by 2025, through our Skills for Tomorrow programme. Our own research shows that by demonstrating how STEM subjects can be fun, we can help get primary school youngsters interested and thinking about these subjects from a much earlier age. That means that more students are likely to continue studying these subjects at a higher level and take up STEM related jobs when they leave education.”

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