A month of live chats with I’m an Engineer

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We teamed up with I’m an Engineer to connect local school students with engineers in live text based chats that took place throughout the month of March.

During this month-long ‘Metre Zone’ (all the engineering zones are named after different units of measurement!), several local engineers from the West of England region joined chat sessions with secondary school students, answering questions on a variety of topics, ranging from why they chose engineering as a career, possible new technologies for carbon neutral cars, the impacts of Covid_19 on working life, working internationally and much more.

Metre Zone live chat with local engineer Magdalena from GKN Aerospace

The Metre Zone forms part of a series of online engagement events designed to show students the positive impact of engineering. Our next event in June 2021, the Candela Zone, will see another month of live chats with local schools and engineers, this time with the theme of sustainability, exploring how engineering can help contribute solutions to climate change.

These conversations and discussions will then continue into the Autumn term as we host a Youth Engagement with Engineering and Sustainability Summit (YEESS) in October 2021, ahead of the UN Climate Conference COP26. This 4 day festival-style event will provide opportunities for local sixth form and college students to have their say about the climate and ecological emergency and share this with local policy makers from the region.

If you are an engineer studying or working in the West of England and would like to get involved with the June or October events, or if you are a school and would like to connect your students with local engineers, please contact our team for more information.

This series of events have been funded by the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation initiative (DETI), as part of the Inspire programme led by the Engineering, Design and Mathematics Department at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

DETI is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

Creating a buzz with Primary Engineer

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The DETI Inspire programme recently teamed up with Primary Engineer to provide online teacher CPD sessions for 10 primary schools in the West of England region.

These one-day online sessions supported teachers to deliver a whole class, curriculum mapped engineering project, in this instance, building an electric car.

Primary Engineer supplied all participants with the materials required to run the session, so they were able to follow along in real time and build their own cars with support from their session leader.

Teachers from Ashton Gate Primary, Horfield CEVC Primary, Little Stoke Primary, St Werburghs Primary, Parson Street Primary, Broomhill Junior, St Barnabas Primary, Wellesley Primary, Nova Primary, and Barton Hill Academy ​all attended the sessions online.

Feedback from the participants was really positive, and we were very pleased to note that the new online delivery method worked well.

Excellent training. Explanation was very thorough and the trainer was incredibly patient and supportive. The resources available and next steps are incredible and allows the school to actively participate in STEM with confidence.

Primary Engineer Electric Car CPD Participant

The DETI Inspire programme will now provide links to industry, giving schools the opportunity to be partnered with a professional engineer from a local company, to support sessions back in school with pupils in the classroom.

Connections with diverse engineers are incredibly important for young children, helping to build their science capital and challenge common stereotypes. This is why the DETI Inspire programme launched their Diversity Demonstrator – a network of diverse engineering role models to champion engineering public engagement in the West of England.

We’re really looking forward to being able to meet our local teachers in person again and support sessions like this together, but it’s great to see activities like this working in a virtual environment too. A silver lining to this lockdown is that online events can sometimes allow more people to access the training and support they need, when they need it.

If you are a school looking for support with your STEM activities, or an engineer who would like to connect with local schools, please contact the DETI Inspire team for information about our current and future outreach opportunities.

DETI is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

Providing space for social communication in a STEM engagement project

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Neurodiversity Week celebrates our unique strengths and differences, while recognising that the many talents of people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other neurodiverse ways of thinking and learning are often not suited to traditional, formal learning environments.

Science Hunters is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) outreach and research programme that uses Minecraft to engage children from under-represented groups with STEM. Projects have covered a wide range of topics such as the Amazon rainforest, understanding diabetes, earth science and volcanoes and space, with the Building to Break Barriers project currently running at UWE Bristol engaging children with many aspects of engineering.

Minecraft is the second-best selling video game of all time and extremely popular with children. Players place and break blocks with a wide range of appearances and properties, to build a huge range of constructions. It can be played either as a single-player game or in a shared virtual world with multiple users playing together, and was chosen for Science Hunters because of its popularity (children want to play it!), particular appeal to children who learn differently, and suitability for explaining science.

A key target group for Science Hunters is children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), particularly through a dedicated Minecraft Club that has been running since 2015. It soon became clear that taking part in the club, alongside children with similar needs in an accepting environment, and playing a game which was a shared special interest, had more benefits for participants than STEM learning alone.

When face-to-face sessions are possible, as they were until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minecraft Club uses a dedicated server, so that children can play together in a safe social online space. Most of the children who attend have ADHD, autism and/or dyslexia. Spaces are limited to no more than 16 at a time, with simple guidelines to keep the club fun; children are not under pressure to conform to ‘neurotypical’ behaviour norms as may be expected in non-specific settings.

STEM topics are briefly introduced, and then participants are free to build in Minecraft in relation to that topic; while adults are there to guide and support, children are encouraged to follow their own interests and ideas to create their own unique designs. For four years, data were collected from participating children and their parents/carers, who attended with them, through surveys and interviews.

During this time, 101 children aged 5-17 years attended; responses were gathered from 29 children and 37 caregivers. Results indicated that children both enjoyed and learnt something from attending, and while their feedback understandably often focused on Minecraft, they also indicated that they had benefitted socially and emotionally from being in the shared space with other children with similar interests. This was supported by insights from parents and carers, who described benefits outside the club, such as improved confidence and wellbeing, improved social skills, and reduced need for formal learning support.

Interest in playing Minecraft is what motivates children to attend, and the game provides a range of opportunities for children to potentially develop social and educational skills. This is supported by the process of designing and completing builds, independently or collaboratively, and communicating with others within the shared virtual world. Playing in the same physical space enhances this, as communication can move between the virtual and real worlds and allow in-person peer support and the ‘safe space’ provided in our Minecraft Club supports children with SEN to interact naturally and spontaneously. While it was set up as part of STEM outreach, the social communication impacts of our Minecraft Club – such as making friends, fitting in, and feeling valued without judgement regardless of completing tasks or conforming to expected social behaviours – are at least as important.

Minecraft Club is currently running virtually as part of Building to Break Barriers. We’ve looked at earthquake-proof buildings, protecting against flooding, tunnels, drones and more, and are exploring the effects of the change to meeting online.

More information about Minecraft Club, and its impacts reported here, is available in Hobbs et al. (2020) Shared special interest play in a specific extra-curricular group setting: A Minecraft Club for children with Special Educational Needs, Educational and Child Psychology, 37(4), 81-95.

How do you teach a class of pupils amidst lockdowns and school closures?

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British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) taking place this year between 5-14th March.

Despite the many challenges of taking part in Science Week during a global pandemic, schools around the country have been engaging with celebrations whole-heartedly, ensuring their pupils have the best opportunity possible to celebrate science and its role in society.

And here at UWE Bristol, our student engineers currently studying the Engineering and Society module have been working hard to find new ways of connecting with local schools despite lockdowns, school closures and a whole lot of uncertainty!

The module highlights the importance of professional development, lifelong learning, and the competencies and social responsibilities required in order to be a professional engineer.

Through experience of speaking to different groups of people, including teaching a class of school pupils, the module aims to improve the engineers’ communication skills and enable them to effectively communicate engineering and sustainability concepts to a variety of audiences in the future.

But how to teach a class of pupils during a time of school closures and remote learning?

Our student engineers solved that problem, collaborating with students studying Primary Education at UWE, to create their own set of digital educational resources that could be used remotely by teachers.

An exciting opportunity to gather an insight into engineering allowing us to inspire young minds and create opportunities for the future.

Elizabeth Hadlington, Student in Primary Education, UWE Bristol

Over 50 student engineers recorded a set of videos; the first to introduce themselves to the pupils, the area of engineering they study, their interests, what inspired them to become engineers, and advice about different engineering career pathways.

The second video was more subject-specific, helping teach the pupils some of their curriculum-linked learning using a combination of presentations, demonstrations and follow-along activities.

Here is student engineer Noble, introducing himself to KS1 and having some fun with forces.

Meet Noble, student engineer at UWE Bristol

The students then worked together to create a full package of teaching resources for local schools, including videos, lesson plans and activities. These resource packs are now being shared with the placement schools usually visited by the students of Primary Education, over 40 schools throughout Bristol, to use during British Science Week.

‘Draw an Engineer’ one of the activities from the pack sent to local primary schools

The resources will also be made available to all schools registered to take part in the DETI Inspire event – The Big Beam In for British Science Week, reaching a further 19 schools from across the West of England and over 1600 pupils!

From the feedback coming in so far from all students involved, it looks like the project has been a huge success! We’d like to thank all of the students and schools involved and we’re looking forward to seeing what our local schools make of the resource packs – watch this space for more updates!

Noble had the challenge of creating materials for KS1 which is always tricky especially when it comes to engineering however he quickly overcome this barrier and was able to assess the national curriculum to pinpoint were engineering would fit in.

Noble is a credit to the engineering team! We hope him the best in the future! Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to work with engineers. We have learnt a lot and explored a new way of teaching!

Megan Lili William, Student in Primary Education, UWE Bristol

If you are currently studying or working in an engineering field and would like to know more about the outreach opportunities available, please get in touch with the DETI Inspire team at deti@uwe.ac.uk

Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. Industry partners include Airbus, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, and CFMS, with in kind contributions from UWE, Digital Catapult and Siemens. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

Making or Baking – there are many routes into STEM!

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Over 200 Year 9 and 10 pupils from across the country tuned in to an online webinar this week, to hear engineers in the West of England talk about their routes into STEM careers. 

The live Q and A panel was organised by DETI Inspire in collaboration with the EDT Routes into STEM programme.

The session had fantastic engagement, with pupils sending in over 100 questions to the panel of four amazing engineers from the West of England.  

Questions and discussions led by the students covered a huge number of topics, including job interviews, working abroad, the transition from school to the workplace, gap years, influences, chosen subjects, and being a woman in STEM.  All mixed in with the real stories and experiences of local engineers, from roast potatoes and chocolate, to the enjoyment of rooting through people’s bins!

Olivia Sweeney talked about her experiences studying Chemical Engineering, and her opportunities working abroad in Sweden, Romania and Pakistan.  She also surprised us all by saying that her favourite part of her job as a sustainable waste consultant was looking through people’s bins!  

Olivia collects first hand data to understand what people put in their bins, when they do so, and why so that she can work to make it easier for people to recycle, reduce waste and make the process more circular.

When asked about her route into a role as a Naval Architect, Laura Star got the pupil’s tastebuds tingling by talking about her experience as a food engineer working with lots of chocolate!  An unexpected route into naval architecture, where she helps plan how different parts fit together like a jigsaw to form enormous ships and sea-vessels.  

Laura also gave the pupils some strong advice about being a woman in STEM, and her experiences of working in a largely male-dominated environment.  

Rich Moorcraft spoke about his journey to becoming a technical design engineer and manager at a packaging company, through an aerospace engineering apprenticeship.  The pupils were really interested to hear about the choices he made when leaving school at 16, and his advice for pushing through into STEM without taking the traditional academic and higher education route.

When talking about the favourite parts of her job as a mechanical design engineer, Temi Odanye showed the pupils some great shots of her and hundreds of her colleagues that she helped to grow!  It was her first batch of crops at a company that works to make farming more sustainable and efficient, helping to tackle some of the world’s most important challenges. 

DETI Inspire also talked to the pupils all about some of the projects that we have been working on, including the Engineering Curiosity card games, lesson plans and resources being developed for DETI Inspire’s Big Beam In during Science Week from the 5th of March. 

It was clear that the pupils really engaged with and responded to the advice given, and our thanks go to the engineers that kindly gave their time to inspire the engineers of the future!

The session is available to view below at the following link:


Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & Simulation, Digital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. Industry partners include Airbus, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, and CFMS, with in kind contributions from UWE, Digital Catapult and Siemens. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

Connecting local students and engineers with I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here!

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I’m an Engineer is an online STEM engagement and enrichment project that connects students with real engineers online.

And this year, the DETI Inspire team from UWE Bristol have teamed up with I’m an Engineer to show students the positive impacts of digital engineering.

Engineers from across the region are invited to take part in the Youth Engagement with Engineering and Sustainability Summit (YEESS!) to help school students see engineering’s impact on sustainability and the future of our planet.

Together with DETI, I’m an Engineer will run 3 activities for schools in the West of England as part of the DETI Inspire programme.

In March and June 2021 , students can Ask engineers questions, Chat to them in live text-based Chats, and Vote for their favourite engineer to win £500 to put towards further outreach.

In October 2021 , engineers who have taken part in March and June will be given the opportunity to discuss sustainability and engineering with students ahead of COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) as part of the Youth Engagement with Engineering and Sustainability Summit.

Register your interest now: imanengineer.org.uk/engineers/yeess/

As part of the activity, you can:

  • Help students understand the role engineering has to play in making the world more sustainable
  • Engage school students in the West of England with your work
  • Help students see engineering as something ‘for them’
  • Improve your communication skills

I’m an Engineer is accessible and flexible to fit around your schedule – the Zones take place over 4 weeks, and you can choose to participate in live Chats at a time that suits you. You only need access to a computer or tablet, and Internet access, to take part.

Engineers, sign up to the first activity taking place from the 1st – 26th March here.

I would recommend I’m an Engineer to anyone looking to develop their engagement skills – it really is an invaluable experience

Engineer, Autumn 2020

Still have questions? Drop the team an email at support@imanengineer.org.uk

The Metre Zone (1st-26th March) is funded by the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation initiative (DETI), as part of the Inspire programme led by the Engineering, Design and Mathematics Department at the University of the West of England (UWE).

EDM partners with Like To Be to offer online career events

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Careers fairs are traditionally a face-to-face experience, where students can explore the many different stalls of local employers, have a chat and ask any questions they may have. As with most other in-person events, these careers fairs have not been possible during recent months and their absence is being felt by many schools.

Fortunately there are digital platforms available to help schools and their students access these careers events online. The EDM department at UWE Bristol have partnered up with such a platform to offer schools and students in the South West a way to connect with local employers in the engineering industry, as part of their work to inspire the future generation of digital engineers with the Digital Engineering Technology Innovation (DETI) initiative.

Like To Be is a career event network that brings together students, educators, employers and professionals to offer unique digital career experiences.

Their platform allows students to engage directly with employers, watch employee speakers share real-life insight, ask questions and explore potential work opportunities – all online. Employers can share their brand and career opportunities with student members via their profile page or by hosting a careers event.

Using this online platform, the DETI Inspire team within EDM, will be hosting a series of digital engineering career events throughout the academic year, the first of which will take place next month during Bristol Technology Festival 9th-15th November.

The event is aimed at young people aged 16-18 and will explore the role of digital engineering in creating a sustainable future. With access to the event remaining open for the entire week, students will have the opportunity to watch inspiring videos from a variety of engineers, ask questions via a live chat function and explore a wide range of local employer profiles.

If you are an engineering employer or professional and would like to showcase the careers on offer at your place of work, or if you are a school who would like to attend one of our careers events, please get in touch with our project coordinator ana.bristow@uwe.ac.uk

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 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

Get students engaged with research this autumn

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I’m a Scientist: Students chatting from class (Credit: I’m a Scientist)

Researchers and technicians are invited to take part in I’m a Scientist.

Find out more and sign up at: imascientist.org.uk/scientists

Connect students with science, their teachers and their classmates in this online STEM engagement activity. Taking part is an enjoyable and easy way to get involved in STEM engagement. You’ll develop your communication skills and gain a fresh perspective on your work, all while showing students that science roles can be for them.

I’m a Scientist: Scientist to camera (Credit: I’m a Scientist)

Fill in a profile page, answer questions, and use the text-based chat system with school students. Everything happens online; you take part from your desk or smartphone. There’s no need to prepare activities or leave your lab, office or house.

“The format was so much fun to be involved in. The mix of science and career questions, along with those of a rather more off-beat nature, kept it dynamic and enjoyable.” – David, genetics researcher

The online activity is available from September.

Find out more and sign up at: imascientist.org.uk/stayathome/scientist-signup/

Any questions, contact: support@imascientist.org.uk

UWE researchers have previously been involved in I’m a Scientist and the specialised I’m an Engineer section, and raved about the experience:

Brilliant – it was a kind of science soap box! I got to pontificate on life on Mars, the end of the world and human extinction, global warming, nuclear power, dreams, light years, my favourite animal, my favourite car, string theory, the Higgs Boson and dark matter,” said Alan Winfield, Professor of Robot Ethics at UWE Bristol.

By far the biggest category of questions was about doing science: why and how you do science, what’s the best thing about being a scientist, what you think you have achieved, or will achieve and so on (and quite a few on what you will do with the prize money if you win). These are great questions because they allow you to explode some myths about science: for instance that you have to be super smart to do science, or that one scientist can change the world on their own.

Engineering and a fear of failure

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A fear of failure can put people off iterative trial-and-error disciplines, such as engineering. In the past year, a team of locals have sought to better understand this fear in children, by undertaking research (with evaluation designed by UWE Bristol academics) within Bristol primary schools.

Bristol performer – Kid Carpet – led the “Epic Fail” project, with local engineers and representatives from Bristol young person mental health social movement – Off the Record, run workshops at Victoria Park, May Park and Begbrook primary schools.

Each school residency lasted two weeks and included workshops for Year Five classes in Bridge Building, Fantastic Inventions, Wellbeing, Un-uselessness and Song Writing. As well as some creative ways to capture children’s thoughts about failure.

Bridge building workshops were led by engineer Rachel Kirkwood – a member of UWE Bristol’s Women Like Me engineer mentoring programme. Rachel is featured in the video below, produced to celebrate the Epic Fail project in lieu of the live performances cancelled because of COVID-19.

And be encouraged by one child’s song to “Not give up” in the following short video.