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EDITIONS
Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Robots build bridges for science
The Slam buggy in the competition
Pupils competed to see whose buggy travelled furthest
The UK Government has announced an initiative to boost science education in schools, but many local initiatives are already up and running.

In the London Borough of Lewisham, pupils at six schools are getting the chance to build robots, styled on the BBC Technogames series, to get them more interested in science and technology.


It was a close run competition, with Beckham's Buggy just being pipped to the post for pole position by The Slam.

Beckham's Buggy was shaped like a rocket and had just three wheels to reduce friction, but the bottle of water strapped on to The Slam just gave it that extra edge.

The Slam
Taping a bottle of water to the base helped The Slam win
Thirty-five pupils at Deptford Green School made the cars on the first evening of their robotics after-school club.

Over the next six weeks, the youngsters, aged 11 to 14, will be experimenting with motors, batteries and other power supplies.

They will learn about controlling the robots through radio or computer and giving them intelligence through sensors.

But the first after-school class was about getting to grips with the equipment and getting the pupils to think about weight, balance and friction - and the grand finale was a competition to see whose car went the furthest.

Paper design

For 12-year-old Aspal, planning out various designs on paper paid off when trying to ensure maximum speed.

Aspal and the design
Aspal's group planned their design on paper first
"We did quite a lot of thinking, because we didn't know what equipment we would have.

"The best bit was building the robot and planning it and proving it when we tested it."

Brian, 11, said: "When we tested it and saw how fast it went, I felt really happy and excited."

Rocket theme

Martin, 12, said his group was inspired by space travel.

Martin, 12
Martin's group made a rocket-shaped buggy with three wheels
"We thought of a rocket and the shape of a rocket and then put it into a design that was quick and easy to make.

"We learnt how things would work and where the weight should be to make it go faster," said Martin.

Joanne's group did not do quite so well in the competition, but she said taking part was the main thing.

"I think it's a really good idea - even if you lose, it doesn't bother you because you've taken part and that's the advantage.

pupils making their buggy
Pupils were encouraged to work in small groups
"I learnt about how to use the kits which was a new experience for me. It tends to be boys that make the gadgets and stuff, but I feel I'm a real part of this.

"There're not many activities that involve girls and boys - you've got netball for girls and football for boys, plus you've got people from different backgrounds."

That extra something

For Brendan Mahoney, Key Stage 3 science co-ordinator at Deptford Green, the after-school club gives pupils the chance to get beyond the confines of the National Curriculum.

Brendan Mahoney
Mr Mahoney hopes the scheme will, in time, boost interest in sciences at A-level
"The National Curriculum is restrictive and you can struggle within the subject to give the kids something extra," said Mr Mahoney.

"So this is the sort of thing that develops higher level thinking skills.

"It also gives them a chance to link subjects - this is design, technology, science and physics.

"And if we ran it for a number of years, I'm sure we'd get a greater interest at A-level."

Engineering decline

The classes - which are being organised as part of Science Year - are being led by Dr Alex Zivanovic, a researcher in medical robotics at Imperial College, London.

Dr Alex Zivanovic
Dr Zivanovic is concerned that engineering is in decline
"Children nowadays seem to have no background in engineering - I get the impression they don't do much about it at school," said Dr Zivanovic.

"So we're trying to get them interested in the practicals of how things work and fit together.

"Engineering across the country is becoming less popular as a subject, so hopefully some of this will filter through and they'll have a positive view of engineering - particularly among girls, because there's very few of them coming through."

Student mentors

The scheme also involves university students from Goldsmith College, Greenwich University and Imperial College who act as mentors for the children during the workshops.

Yetunde Abdul
Yetunde Abdul is passing on her enthusiasm for technology
Environmental technology post-graduate at Imperial College Yetunde Abdul said she enjoyed helping the children learn something new.

"I do it for the enjoyment of working with children and helping them achieve something," said Yetunde.

Parents are also invited to come along to the workshop - they're there to encourage the youngsters and give them a few helpful tips.

Confidence boost

Richard Parkinson said his 12-year-old son, Ashley, had grown in confidence since his robot won a Saturday workshop competition, which the school ran earlier this year as an introduction to the after-school club.

Ashley, 12
Mr Parkinson's son, Ashley, has greater confidence in his ideas now
"It's given him a lot more confidence and he feels more secure in his own mind that the ideas he has aren't silly and can work," said Mr Parkinson.

"So when he does it and wins, he's over the moon!

"And he's mixing and socialising. As long as I go with him, he'll come along - otherwise he would sit at home with his Playstation, which I don't like, I would rather he got involved in things."

The robotics scheme in the London Borough of Lewisham is funded by Excellence in Cities, Imperial College, London, Lewisham Education Business Partnership and the Department for Education.

See also:

13 Jun 02 | Education
25 Feb 02 | Education
19 Feb 02 | Education
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