Building to Break Barriers – a different view of engineering

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Building to Break Barriers is a new outreach project that aims to engage children from under-represented groups with engineering, using the computer game Minecraft, which allows players to build almost limitless creations.

The project will co-produce ten new engineering outreach sessions with engineers, children, and young people, and deliver them around the UK. To increase representation, the children involved will be from under-represented groups, and so will some of the engineers. Engineers will receive outreach training and support throughout the project. Activity will take place online during COVID-19 restrictions.

Why Minecraft?

Building to Break Barriers is a Science Hunters project. Science Hunters uses Minecraft to engage children with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) for three key reasons:

  • Minecraft is very popular – it has even been referred to as one of the most important games of the current generation. This means that it is both familiar and appealing to children, and can interest them in topics that they might not otherwise engage with. It is also relatively easy to use, and quickly picked up.
  • Minecraft has various features which represent items and processes in the real world. This makes it ideal for communicating about, and building understanding of, a range of scientific concepts.

The game can be used in different modes on a range of hardware, including Creative mode, which allows unlimited building and therefore has high flexibility.            

What’s involved?

Children and schools

UK children and schools are invited to participate in co-designing outreach sessions with the project team and engineers. This may look different for each school and child, and could include: contributing an idea for a session topic, voting on a selection of session topics, suggesting hands-on resources, or designing part of a Minecraft challenge. They will also be able, circumstances permitting, to trial or take part in the developed sessions.

Ideally, this project would take place in schools. During COVID-19 restrictions, these elements can be conducted remotely with children who are either attending school (supported by teaching staff) or learning from home (with family support). The specific approach for each school will be discussed individually with staff.

Engineers

Engineers will also have the opportunity to co-design and deliver outreach sessions. This may be directly with schools and children as above, with Minecraft Clubs for specific groups, at public events, or with the project team (activities dependent on COVID-19 restrictions). Engineers will be able to choose their type and level of involvement to suit them.

Engineers will also receive 1:1 outreach training and have the opportunity to participate in group discussions, which will be conducted remotely to improve access and inclusion (e.g. for those with caring responsibilities).

Children, their teachers and parents/carers, and engineers will all be asked to provide evaluative information and will be able to contribute to the project’s ongoing direction and development.

Who can take part?

This project aims to reach children who may face barriers to accessing educational opportunities and have characteristics that mean they are under-represented in Engineering.

The project has a particular focus on supporting:

  • Women and girls
  • People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
  • People from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds (e.g. eligible for Pupil Premium, or from areas with low progression to Higher Education)
  • Looked After Children/Care leavers

Under-represented groups can also include people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities, with disabilities or long-term illnesses, in rural areas or limited access to services, who were/would be the first generation in the their family to go to university, who are carers/young carers, and with English as an Additional Language (NB this list is not exhaustive).

Representation is really important in enabling young people to feel that engineering is ‘for them’, so engineers who fall (or would have fallen, as children) into these groups are particularly encouraged to join the project.

Engineers can be from any engineering field, based in the UK. Whilst we recognise the value of undergraduate students, we are not able to offer places to them for this project. UWE provides public engagement training for undergraduate engineering students through the Engineering and Society module.

Further information and get involved

Building to Break Barriers is delivered by Dr Laura Hobbs and Sophie Bentley at UWE Bristol. They are assisted by Dr Calum Hartley, Professor Carly Stevens and Dr Jackie Hartley at Lancaster University, Dr Thom Wilcockson at the University of Loughborough, and Dr Paul Redford at UWE Bristol. The project is funded by an Ingenious grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Schools who are interested in being involved should contact Laura and Sophie on ExtendingSTEM@uwe.ac.uk. Unless already involved with Science Hunters, parents/carers of children should ask their child’s school to contact us.

Engineers who are interested in being involved can complete an expression of interest here, and will be contacted when outreach can begin. Engineers in the West of England can also become part of the new initiative for Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) Diversity Demonstrator database of diverse engineering role models; sign up to the mailing list here.

The project ends in January 2022. For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Laura and Sophie at ExtendingSTEM@uwe.ac.uk

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