Robot dogs and the e-word

10th December 2004 at 00:00
In the 1960s and 1970s, the word enterprise meant a starship that boldly went where no man had gone before, as far as I was concerned. In the 1980s and early 1990s, I didn't care much for the concept of enterprise at all.

My father, a designer initially of cars (check out the fuel system in the Austin A35) and later of heavy earth moving equipment, was made redundant, but that was all right. He could be enterprising, couldn't he? I dare say I am not the only person for whom enterprise has such connotations, but there are probably few in this decade who think of Snowy the Robot Dog when they hear the e-word.

It all began with one of those "would you be willing to . . ." moments that are fairly common in my current role. Would I be willing to be a "subject champion" and take forward issues of enterprise, citizenship and the like for physics in the authority? "No chance. I'm a left of centre pinko who is concerned with producing well-rounded individuals, not fodder for big businesses or proto-Richard Bransons."

Actually, I didn't say that. Instead, I answered: "Errr . . . what does it involve?" One of the things it involved was an enterprise activity where my team redesigned the cagoule. Our new waterproof had many innovative features, most notably a hood that swivelled with one's head. I began to see enterprise activities as ways of allowing pupils to be creative with science. Next off came a "physics challenge" which was themed on Mission Impossible. Teams of Standard grade students had to design, build and market a powered surveillance device out of Meccano, a twelve quid digital camera and some Blue-Petery junk.

I had a go myself and came up with the aforementioned Snowy the Robot Dog.

Apart from building Snowy, I exercised creativity by videoing my father-in-law acting as Anthony Perkins to give the teams their self-destructing mission orders.

Enterprise activity three was an industrial visit for physics teachers to a local electronics plant. This was much enjoyed by all who attended.

Standard grade physics is applications based, but some of our applications are a bit last century. My favourite part of the day was learning about the swallowable digital camera that can explore the gut without the need for surgery.

But I got more out of the trip than that. The company hosting the visit had its own classrooms. Its employees are continually learning. This is something that I will take back to pupils, the need to learn how to learn at school. When they boldly go wherever they go when they leave us, the chances are they aren't going to be saying goodbye to education any more.

Gregor Steele made Snowy's head out of a plastic cup.

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