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My left-field lesson - Souped-up science

Teens will be inspired when they look under the bonnet of a space-age rocket car

Teens will be inspired when they look under the bonnet of a space-age rocket car

Richard Noble (right) is more accustomed to breaking world records than standing in front of teenagers. In 1983, he broke the land speed record, and since then he has been instrumental in helping others to exceed his own marker. Yet standing at the front of classrooms is now where he often finds himself.

This is because Bloodhound SSC, a 1,000mph land-speed record attempt led by Noble, is now a global education initiative as well as a test of human capability. The Bloodhound car - which is being built in Bristol, south-west England - is being used as the centrepiece for the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) in schools.

The aim is to give students a completely different take on Stem subjects, an area that can often be labelled boring, by making them part of a world record-breaking attempt. And if anything is going to engage students, it is the prospect of seeing a car that looks, sounds and moves like something from the space age.

Students are introduced to the car and the staggering amount of Stem-based work that has gone into its creation. They get an insight into its inner workings and are engaged in solving problems such as how to retrieve data from the car, how to deal with the heat of the desert where the record attempt will take place and even what the driver's helmet should look like. They also get the chance to build their own models using K'NEX building toys or in the form of balloon-powered rocket cars.

Teachers are given access to cross-curricular resources that they can use to enhance and enrich lessons or after-school Stem clubs. In June this year, inspired by the project, one rocket-car club at a secondary school in Hounslow, West London, achieved the Guinness World Record for a model rocket car: an amazing 204mph.

The Bloodhound Project provides a focus on Stem industries that can be lost in traditional teaching. It takes science and technology to the limit, while emphasising the creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills that make careers in the sector so rewarding. It also introduces new technologies: some parts of the car will be made by additive manufacture (3D printing), a technology that is becoming more common in schools.

The impact of this fresh approach can be substantial. Jess Herbert, who studied at Gordano School in Bristol, wanted to be a marine biologist before the Bloodhound team visited. Now 16, she spoke at the opening of the new Bloodhound Technical Centre in Avonmouth, and is about to embark on a prestigious apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce, fresh from completing her GCSEs. This is the impact that giving students a real-world insight into Stem subjects can have.

Even if the car doesn't break the 1,000mph barrier in its audacious 2015 attempt (although we're sure it will), as long as there are a handful of Jess Herberts who throw themselves into Stem industries after experiencing Bloodhound, our project will have been a success.

Jo Beswick is education animator and ambassador trainer for the Bloodhound Project. She was speaking to Jack Barber. Find out more at www.bloodhoundssc.comeducation


1 Just the job

The next time a student asks what the point of learning Stem subjects is, produce this list of career profiles including roles that require Stem knowledge, from agricultural consultants to toxicologists. Average salaries provide additional motivation.


2 Engineer opportunity

Demystify engineering with this PowerPoint that examines all aspects of the profession, from definitions of the different sectors and roles to the qualifications and skills needed to be successful.


3 Biology bonus

This collection of resources emphasises that studying biology and having a broad knowledge of science are essential to a wide variety of careers.


4 Set in motion

Show students the role physics plays in computer game development with this fascinating video from the Institute of Physics.


5 Career paths

Signpost the way to an engineering career with this helpful guide from the Royal Academy of Engineering, which includes case studies and explains different entry routes.


6 Planet science

Inspire your students to consider a scientific career by showing them this video by the At-Bristol science centre, in which a planetary researcher talks enthusiastically about his life as a scientist.


7 Global perspective

Emphasise how Stem can lead to a career travelling the world and making a difference in the field of international development with these five case studies.


8 Practical pointers

Help your Stem stars to choose the right career path using this list of roles and sectors, along with prominent companies that are crying out for candidates with engineering skills.


9 Stem snapshot

This informative guide for organising Stem work experience placements also answers common queries, such as those regarding health and safety issues.


10 Structured activity

In this Teachers TV video, students learn about engineering through the context of theme park rides, and conduct mock interviews for a structural engineering job.


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