Pupils at Appleby Primary School are celebrating this week after an engineering project they have worked on won an award at a competition at the University of Cumbria.
Children at Appleby Primary entered the First Lego League – an international competition focussing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – and competed alongside pupils from ten primary and secondary schools in the regional competition held at the University of Cumbria on Friday.
The competition has seen pupils work with University of Cumbria STEM Ambassador, Dr Alan Green to design, build and programme their own robot. Pupils learned how to use a range of algorithms to instruct their robot to complete a series of tasks. Children developed their skills over the last half term; encoding their device to perform an ever-increasingly complex range of functions from operating a crane to depositing crates and cross a narrow bridge. Science subject leader, Nicola Willacy, remarked: “It has been really rewarding to see the children honing their skills. They have shown real talent and a great deal of resilience to perfect their coding in order to operate their robot using complex computer software.”
However, it was the outstanding engineering project that pupils completed alongside their robot that really captured the judges’ imaginations. Pupils were challenged to develop and project manage a plan to tackle a real-life issue in their community. Mrs Willacy explained: “A core value of our curriculum approach is to extend pupils’ learning and aspirations through creative, real-life experiences and this project has truly embodied that.”
Choosing the area of flood prevention – a topic close to the heart of everyone in Appleby – pupils chose to contact some experts for advice and it was at this point that the assignment really took flight. Following some internet research, children contacted the chair of the Association for Project Management. Dr Paul Chapman is a senior fellow at Oxford University and the Academy Director for the UK Government’s Major Project Leadership Academy. Impressed by the work and knowledge demonstrated by the team of nine and ten-year-olds he agreed to advise them via a series of Skype calls. Children created their project team, assigning roles and delegating tasks to research and plan a scheme of flood prevention for their town which was significantly affected by flooding following Storm Desmond in 2015.
As the children’s work progressed, staff at the school were taken-aback to receive an email offering support from the Cabinet Office in Whitehall. Mrs Alison Baptiste is a senior civil servant with the Cabinet Office and is Director of Operations leading the team providing delivery support and assurance to departments with projects on the Government Major Projects Portfolio. She contacted the school in order to arrange the chance to discuss with pupils their “remarkable project”.
Headteacher, David Spruce, said “We have been absolutely blown away by the work and so proud of our children. When we challenged them to make the most of this opportunity to extend and deepen their learning, we could only have imagined where it could take us and they have certainly gone to the top of the tree. At Appleby we are proud of our curriculum and the opportunities that pupils create to develop their aspirations and this group of children have really grasped the bull by the horns.”
The pinnacle for the project team was possibly the possibly the chance to discuss their work with Dan Phillips. Dan is the Engineering Project Director at Mott MacDonald, the team that masterminded the countrywide response to the damage left in the wake of Storm Desmond, including the new Pooley Bridge. Pupils had to come into school early to Skype call Mr Phillips who is currently in Malaysia working on a project to build the world’s largest building.
At the competition finals day at the University of Cumbria, pupils from Appleby put all of their research and planning on display as they presented to a range of industry leaders. Judges were impressed by their professionalism, subject knowledge and the core values that they demonstrated, awarding the team First Prize for their Innovative Project.