The Future’s Bright — Let’s Keep It That Way

A few weeks ago I did something really cool. Through a series of extremely fortunate events, I got to be one of the judges the Peterborough round of the First Lego League jr Expo at the Allia Future Business Centre. I’ve not done anything like this before, and in fact I hadn’t even heard of the Lego League before — when I say I was very lucky to get involved, I really mean it! FIRST LEGO League Jr is an international engineering and computing programme — run in the UK by the IET, based around team work, problem solving and fun. Groups of up to six 6–9 year olds research a project (the importance of water for this season) to identify potential real-world problems, design a solution and build a LEGO model to demonstrate the solution. All teams build a Team Model using LEGO and WeDo kits, as well as making a Show Me poster. This was the first time it had been run in Peterborough and I was very excited to be attending.

There were five teams of children from a variety of different backgrounds taking part; there was a mix of family teams, groups of friends and school clubs that had made the trip with a project of their own. Each and every one absolutely blew me away with the amazing models they’d created. One team had looked at the different problems that families in India, Africa and the UK experience when trying to get water, and had come up with a solution that would work for all of them. Another team had looked at the struggles that young girls across poorer regions of Africa go through to fetch water, and had come up with a water truck that would fetch and clean the water of them. Yet another had looked at the local surroundings near their home and had built a model of the pumping stations that manage the levels of water in the local reservoir. Not being able to find a part that matched the shape of the ‘float’ they needed, they had designed one themselves and used a 3D printer to make it. By the end of the day I was feeling very very embarrassed about my own Lego skills.

On the drive home I had time to reflect on what I’d seen and the incredibly talented children that I’d met. I thought about how talented they all were and what great lives and careers they would all have when they grew up, and what amazing things they might do. And then I thought about how many children there are across the country who don’t have the support, the encouragement or the opportunity to get involved in projects like this and discover their own spark of passion in STEM fields. And then I thought about how so many of the children I’d seen were only doing the amazing things they were doing because of volunteers giving up their time to help them be as good as they can be, and what a tragedy it would be if these opportunities weren’t available for them.

Its really easy to not think about how incredible a child’s mind is — they often don’t know it themselves, and its through experiences like this that they discover things they are amazing at. And its only continued exposure to activities like this that keeps them interested and inspired; statistics gathered by the STEM Ambassadors organisation shows that at age 10–11, 72% of girls and 75% of boys said they were interested in STEM subjects. By age 18 those numbers have fallen to 19% and 33% respectively. That’s a huge amount of potential that’s lost from hugely important and urgently needed career paths. As parents, relatives or even just as professionals in those fields, we all have a responsibility to future generations to make sure that they have the opportunities to remain engaged and inspired with these subjects.

There are a world of opportunities to get involved in as a volunteer, and make a huge difference to the next generation of STEM superstars. For a start Lego League jr is running again in Peterborough, so if you want to get involved I’d really recommend being brave and going for it — you’ll be amazed at what you find.

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reader of books, follower of Formula One, eater of pistachios

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Drew Pontikis

Drew Pontikis

reader of books, follower of Formula One, eater of pistachios

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