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STEM in schools receives a boost from international LEGO competition

L-R: Nigel Smith, STEM outreach co-ordinator at University of Cumbria; Fran Ward, co-director of C-STEM; and Pete Woolaghan, from the REACT Foundation at the Carlisle & Eden launch of the FIRST LEGO League

Increasing numbers of schoolchildren are taking part in an international STEM competition based on the popularity of LEGO.

At least 100 pupils in 10 schools across north Cumbria are the latest to join the FIRST LEGO League competition thanks to a collaboration between the University of Cumbria, C-STEM and the west Cumbrian-based REACT Foundation.

A regional launch of the international competition that is designed to excite youngsters aged 9-16 year olds about science and technology has taken place at the university’s Fusehill Street campus in Carlisle.

Nigel Smith, STEM co-ordinator at the University of Cumbria, said: “We are very pleased to be working with C-STEM and the REACT Foundation to develop the FIRST LEGO League across the Carlisle and Eden areas.

Students from Austin Friars School, Carlisle, at the University of Cumbria demonstrating and discussing their success in the FIRST LEGO League L-R: Anastasia Palmer, Lily Shannon, Melissa McIntosh, Joe Woolaghan, Josh Blain, Myesha Pearson and Ana-Maria Ciobanu

“FIRST LEGO League is a fantastic STEM challenge for 9-16 year-olds. It aims to encourage interest in real world themes and develop skills that are crucial for future careers, which resonates well with the aims of our courses at the university.”

Pete Woolaghan, of the REACT Foundation, said: “We started FIRST LEGO League four years ago as a pilot with six schools and we’ve grown significantly since then. When we started, at that time, Cumbria was the only region of the country without a team in the competition. At the end of last season, we had 67 teams and we’re now the biggest region in the country – Cumbria can be rightly proud of that.

“With University of Cumbria supporting in the north of the county it is wonderful to see the introduction of FLL in Carlisle and Eden and its continued growth across the region, building on its success in west and south Cumbria.”

One of Cumbria’s largest property and land service groups, Penrith Farmers’ & Kidd (PFK), are supporting #FLLTeamCumbria as it expands into Carlisle and Eden.

Stephen Lancaster, managing director of PFK, said: “We are delighted to support the FIRST LEGO League and hope as ambassadors that we can assist with teams with their entries as well as helping to spread the word about this fantastic competition.”

C-STEM co-director Fran Ward, who has won a national award from the Institute of Engineering and Technology for his outstanding contribution to the competition, said: “Since the inception of FLL in Cumbria, it has been C-STEM’s priority to support pupils and teachers as they take their first steps into participating in a global event. Taking on any extra-curricular engagements as a teacher is a daunting prospect so we provide the necessary support to make the foray as exciting and engaging as possible.

“Cumbria is the fastest growing area in the UK and Ireland for FIRST LEGO League and with the help from the University of Cumbria this year, we are able to continue that growth into the 2019/2020 season. I believe we have a strong chance of having Cumbria represented on the global stage at the US finals in the not too distant future. With support from the university and businesses around the county, we can work on making this a reality.”

Teachers from the 10 new schools being supported by the university visited its Fusehill Street campus to receive training and equipment for the scheme that develops youngsters’ imaginative thinking and teamwork.

Pupils from Austin Friars School, Carlisle, already take part in the west Cumbrian group. Last year they finished third in the national competition, narrowly missing out on the chance to represent the UK at the international final in Istanbul. They led a demo of the kit at the recent launch.

Afterwards Hazel Johnson, headteacher of Penruddock Primary School, said: “We have a new holistic curriculum in school and developing life skills threads through it. STEM opportunities like this have a broader set of skills woven within them and therefore their impact is significant across the whole curriculum as well as being fun, exciting and motivational for pupils.”

Carlisle student Teri Hardy, who is entering her third and final year of her BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences course at the University of Cumbria, will be a volunteer ambassador supporting a school.

“I can’t wait to work with young minds because of their problem solving,” said Teri. “It is going to be interesting working with them, see the ideas they come up with and how they develop them.”

To find out more about how to get involved as a parent, teacher, coach, sponsor or volunteer, please contact C-STEM’s Fran Ward by calling 015395 67101 or sending an email to [email protected]

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