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School pupils get to grips with fundamentals of technology and engineering

Dr Mark Puttock-Brown leading a tech Girls session.

A Lego robot being programmed to navigate a maze during a Robogals-led session.

School pupils were given a hands-on experience of engineering at the University of Sussex just days before International Women in Engineering Day.

Thirty year 7 and 8 pupils from Seaford Head, Hove Park and Cardinal Newman schools took part in the latest running of the Tech Girls programme which is designed to engage more female pupils to choose STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at school and as future careers.

The project, which has taught more than 500 pupils since 2012 when it was launched as Code Girls, is now delivered by the University of Sussex working in partnership with Albion in the Community, and proudly backed by American Express. Each year, three cohorts of 90 pupils from nine different Sussex schools take part in the scheme.

Three learning sessions in the latest round of the two-day programme were held on Wednesday in the £11 million Future Technologies Lab, opened by then universities minister Jo Johnson in 2017, and John Clifford West.

In one of the challenges members of Robogals Sussex, the local branch of the student-run international organisation inspiring and engaging young girls in the world of STEM, instructed pupils how to navigate a Lego robot around a maze using a drag-and-drop programme on an iPad.

Lucy Gaen, outgoing Robogals Sussex president, said: “By making the challenge competitive between the teams of who can navigate the course the best, we make this learning session fun and engaging. Being able to do these sessions in really small groups means that it is two pupils for every robot so they get a really hands-on experience of working with the programme.”

Hari Prasad, Robogals Sussex training manager, said: “This task teaches the pupils the fundamentals of basic programming. It’s a really useful building block which I have been able to use myself in my degree.”

In another learning session, pupils were given a taster of a first year mechanical engineering lab session where they investigated the relationship between stress and strain and were given the chance to destroy metal samples.

Participants also took part in an Arduino-based game - a hands-on build and play co-operative game involving groups of three matching multi-colour LEDs, with pupils each controlling a colour channel via an ultrasonic sensor and aiming to match the colour to a reference LED.

Dr Mark Puttock-Brown, a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering who led the session, said: "This activity challenges the pupils to build a system of inputs and outputs which links to how to electronic images are displayed in screens all around us.

“The lesson has been both fun and informative for the pupils, with a real sense of achievement when the game turns on and works correctly for the first time. For most this was their first experience of working with breadboards and Arduinos, and they had to work as a team collaboratively and creatively.

“Increasingly we are seeing STEM integrated with the arts, giving STEAM. With this addition I think we can be even more engaging and underline that creativity is an integral part of the problem-solving process in STEM subjects."

The UNESCO-supported International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) will take place this Sunday and is designed to raise the profile of women in engineering around the globe and focus attention on career opportunities available to girls in the industry.

This year’s INWED, the sixth ever to be held, will also celebrate 100 years of the Women's Engineering Society (WES) in the UK.

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 20 June 2019