Last year, the University of Sheffield’s AMRC teamed up with national not-for-profit organisation Primary Engineer to develop the engineering skills of teachers and inspire children to see themselves as future problem-solvers and innovators. This initiative saw teachers from across the Sheffield City Region partner up with engineers from the AMRC and, through the Primary Engineer and Secondary Engineer training programmes, shown how to deliver activities that bring engineering to life in the classroom.

Since the launch at the AMRC Training Centre last November, enthusiastic pupils from 13 primary schools have been busy designing and building racing cars that they will put to the test at a special celebration event at the AMRC on 2 July.

The youngsters made cars out of shoeboxes and, depending on their age, built their own chassis with an electric motor and gearing system. Each pupil had to use their creativity and imagination to design the car, and construct it using simple tools like saws and drills.

A Secondary Engineer celebration will follow, with pupils from four city region secondary schools descending on the AMRC to put their hydraulic-powered robotic arm creations through their paces.

The support of the AMRC Training Centre has been pivotal in the Primary Engineer programme, cementing its commitment to developing and nurturing the ambitions of future engineers.

Director of the AMRC Training Centre, Nikki Jones, says it has been a real privilege working with Primary Engineer to inspire a pipeline of next-generation engineering talent: “The AMRC is very much looking forward to hosting the celebration event and seeing how taking engineering into classrooms has captured the imaginations of the region’s youngsters and given them an understanding of what it means to be an engineer.”

Each school has worked with the AMRC for engineering support and guidance, and been given a direct link to an engineer. Jack Forrest, from the AMRC STEM and Outreach team, says:“The engineers have gone to schools to support sessions, run workshops, give assemblies, and generally be helpful, hands-on and supportive.

“The celebration event on 2 July will look at the best models each school puts forward, interview the students to judge their design and creativity, and let the pupils put their cars through either a downhill or uphill challenge,” he continues. “Depending on their age, they will be judged on how far and how straight their car travels when it is launched from the ramp. The uphill task will involve students using embedded electronics, gearing and friction in order to pull the car up an incline when they activate the switch.”

Secondary school learners were tasked with designing and building pick-and-place robots that are powered using hydraulic systems. To fire up imaginations, the pupils were shown examples of hydraulic structures that can bring about movement in each dimension, and used these as inspiration to design their own robot arm that can grab, lift, move and release items.

“Each robot has been built from scratch using saws, drills, glue guns, lengths of wood, dowels, tubing and syringes,” says Forrest. “The pupils will be presenting their designs to a panel of judges, and be interviewed. They will then have to demonstrate the capabilities of their robot by competing against robots from other schools. The test will involve moving cylinders on to platforms with areas marked for different scores, depending on the level of difficulty.”

Presentations will be made at the end of the primary and secondary school challenges, and judges will hand out ribbons and medals to the best teams. The day culminates with a Leaders Award celebration to announce winners of a competition that challenged schoolchildren from across Yorkshire and Humber to answer the question: ‘If you were an engineer what would you do?’

Pupils had to identify a real-world problem, design a solution and write a letter to an engineer saying why they should make it. More than 2,220 entries were submitted from 16 schools attempting to solve a whole range of challenges, from inventions to support people with dementia, through solving global warming and climate change, to machines that feed pets.

Shortlisted designs have been judged by a panel of experts, including AMRC CEO Colin Sirett, AMRC engineers and trainers, and Shivan Morkar, who is the AMRC Training Centre Apprentice of the Year 2019. From the shortlisted entries, two victors are chosen from each year group, along with the winner, whose design will be prototyped by the AMRC.

An exhibition of entries from participating schools will be held at the AMRC Training Centre on 3 July, which will be open to the public and free to attend.