Full 'STEAM' ahead for the next generation of engineers

Sunday 20 February 2022 10:00

Over the last five weeks the P6/P7 pupils of St Laurence O’Toole’s Primary School in Belleek have been surrounded by levers, pulleys and prosthetics.

These are just some of the practical lessons taught to them through their partnership with Re-Gen Waste and STEAM Education’s ‘Engineering-in-a-Box’ programme.

During this time, mechanical engineer Louth McMahon and Tiarnan O’Hare from Re-Gen have volunteered their expertise and time to lead the 20 children through a hands-on apprenticeship-style programme, with the aim of inspiring a new generation of engineers. based in Newry, Re-Gen is one of Northern Ireland’s top recycling and waste management companies.

The ‘Engineering-in-a-Box’ programme explores how humans, and particularly engineers, approach the challenges of today’s modern world and how problems are solved for the benefit of everyone. By way of introduction the program highlights the importance of buildings and infrastructure, the need to create more efficient and sustainable energy systems, and the importance of resources and recycling. In the classroom this translates to children working on lessons where they construct buildings using lollipop sticks and designing water and wind turbines from recyclable materials. The programme also incorporates team building and self-directed learning projects, giving the children an opportunity to devise solutions to challenges, to build them, test them, and learn from any mistakes and rectify their models or designs.

Mrs Ciara Monaghan, Principal of St Laurence O’Toole’s P.S., explains, “Louth and Tiarnan were key in this collaboration. They were always well prepared as they had studied the resources and presentations at length and their enthusiasm for the project helped to ignite great interest in the children. The interactive, practical nature of the project was a big hit with the children.

“Getting to actually design and create an object under the expert guidance of engineers was invaluable and motivating for the children. Another great success of the project was that all discussions and learning was linked to real life situations to which all children could relate. Finally, every lesson was fun and exciting for the class due to the challenge element. The sound of laughter ringing through the corridor was a common occurrence every Monday when the Re-Gen Team came to school!”

Pupil Rachel said “When Re-Gen came it was so exciting because we got to build bird shelters, windmills and boats. We also learned about how much electricity we use and waste. When we made the boats, we had to make sure it didn't sink like the Titanic. When we were making our bird’s house, we had to make it stable so it wouldn't tip or crash on the little bird.”

Sean Óg adds, “I'm really enjoying Re-Gen and STEAM, it's really interesting and fun. I liked when we built our bird house in the first week and then built the windmills and boats. When we were talking about engineering it inspired me to become an engineer myself.”

Sinéad McGleenon, STEAM (NI) Client & Schools Engagement Executive, highlights the benefit of this initiative.

“From an educational point of view, it is brilliant for primary children to learn about engineering from a young age, while also seeing the importance of engineers and engineering in their locality. Through this exciting project between St Laurence O’Toole’s P.S., STEAM Education and Re-Gen, we have hopefully inspired the next generation of future engineers.”

Louth McMahon, Technical Development/R&D Manager at Re-Gen, adds, “This is a great initiative for inspiring and challenging our primary school pupils to link Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, with what is happening in their homes and community. It was in my primary school that my interest in science and technology started so hopefully this STEAM program will inspire some future engineers. As an engineer I’ve spent the last 20 years carrying out research and working with other people to find solutions to problems. I’m delighted that I could share my experience with the Belleek pupils and hopefully open their eyes to the world of possibilities that lies ahead off them in Engineering.”

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