Will was voted the winner of Hospitals Zone in June of 2015. Here he updates us on what he’s been able to do with his £500 prize money since winning…
My Year Since “I’m an Engineer…”
As I bask in the glory of my victory just over a year ago; I stop and take stock. I reflect on all the ideas I had, promises and pledges made to invest the winning money wisely; and now today I reveal unto you the fruits of said labour!
Let’s get real here, big projects don’t always go as planned. Plans change, tasks that seemed simple at first turn out to be gargantuan in nature and some ideas just don’t pan out. But luckily, my plans didn’t go ENTIRELY terribly, some good progress was made and I have some cool stuff to show for it. Without further ado, here is what I have been up to (well, the relevant stuff anyway) since winning “I’m an Engineer; get me out of here”!
Me and my happy Code Clubbers
I have spent the prize money on whatever will help me with my outreach activities. Upon hearing of its existence I have purchased a Raspberry Pi 3 for me to produce workshops on. The entire code base for the games development project below was prepared and tested on that Raspberry Pi to ensure it would work with the school’s Raspberry Pi’s. I have also managed to snag myself a Raspberry Pi Zero for me to experiment with some new workshop ideas on that.
My latest purchase was two huge boxes of sensors, components etc. to inspire future workshops. Among these are heart rate sensors, motors, microphones among other things to be use in the upcoming “Engineering for Health” workshops, more details below. I’m very excited to see how this latest round of workshops goes down; as engineering in healthcare has been the last three years of my life, and a crazy mix of stress, boredom, frustration and elation all in equal measure.
The rest of the money that was kindly given to me was spent on camera equipment to start up a YouTube channel; such as the camera itself for capturing my dazzling good looks, tripod, vocal microphone, microphone stand and audio interface for recording my silky smooth voice.
Here’s some more on the projects my equipment has helped to support…
Teaching Teachers About Teaching Technology
As the school curriculum is adapting to incorporate Computing and Computer Science into them; it is important that teachers are prepared for this. The unfortunate fact is that most existing IT teachers are not adequately trained to delivery a completely comprehensive computing curriculum. This is where I and the department of Widening Participation and Outreach at the University of Surrey come in. We have been doing our best to support schools in their delivery of Computer Science and ensuring that their pupils our engaged. To do this we’ve been tackling this problem from two different angles:
Teaching Coding Days: School teachers come to us at the University for two days of intensive Coding. We set them up with Raspberry Pi’s and give them a stack of tasks and challenges to complete. We even occasionally let them have something to eat or go to the bathroom! The point of these exercises is to give them two working days of uninterrupted programming. This way they can see first hand what it is to program for a length of time, encounter the kinds of problems students run into so they can be better prepared for delivering lessons on these subjects.
Coding Hubs: This is where we deliver the programming lessons straight to students; they either visit us at the University or we visit them at their own schools. We give them a wide variety of workshops and challenges to help them learn programming. The intention here is not to replace the role of the teacher, but to engage students and get them interested in engineering and computer sciences as a career.
Because we are doing this within the department of Widening Participation and Outreach; the students we reach are guaranteed to be from a background where the participation in University level education is low. We’ve reached hundreds of students with these activities and hopefully inspired many of them to tackle STEM subjects at a University level. Our latest project involves games development in Python! We’ve prepared a long running project, where students are to develop their own version of Brick Breaker/Breakout; it is up to them to write the code that handles the on screen graphics, the physics and collision detection.
Inspiring Young Engineers summer schools
Every year, the University of Surrey runs several summer schools; two of which I have always been involved in. The Young Person’s University, and HeadStart. The former of these two is organised and run by the Department of Widening Participation and Outreach and aims to attract students from demographics where University applications are low. This is our chance to inspire them to go to University and study STEM subjects when they might not have tried. The kinds of workshops I run for these are electronics and programming workshops using Arduino as a platform. The students are given the kits and some worksheets to work through. In that time they should learn a little about what it is working in a modern electronics environment and what they can expected to do if they study Electronic Engineering at University.
The latter of the two schools is aimed at high achieving students who have just finished their AS levels are looking for Universities to apply for in their UCAS applications. We run very similar workshops to those as in the Young Person’s University; they are merely targeted at a separate student demographic.
What is different this year is that the University is in the middle of constructing it’s “Engineering for Health” teaching laboratories. In these labs, students will be learning skills to tackle problems related to health and health care with engineering skills and disciplines. Naturally, we’ve adapted our workshops to fit this theme. This year, thanks to equipment bought with the I’m an Engineer prize money, we have some interesting health related challenges for students to tackle!
(Dreaming of) Becoming a Youtube Sensation
One of the things I REALLY wanted to do with the prize money was to invest in the equipment to start up a Youtube channel; where I can make videos and demonstrations of cool projects. I toyed with this idea merely months before competing in “I’m an Engineer” and produced three very short and snappy tutorials to supplement my Coding Hub endeavours: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLH_HFKBhWFZpU2fsF78XPEaGMglZKd52P
After winning, one of the first things I did was purchase the equipment necessary to give it a go and experiment with the idea of producing bigger, more ambitious and more engaging videos. That’s when I quickly realised how much of a gargantuan effort video production is… The other challenge was making videos both useful and interesting to someone who’d like to get into engineering. What I had concluded was that I should make DIY types of videos, perhaps supplemented with a website of written instructions to complete these projects. I also concluded that I would probably need some help; as video production involves script writing, filming and editing. Producing a 20 minute video could take just as many hours to do!
For now the idea has remained dormant until after I finish my PhD and I should (hopefully) have some spare time going for me! Given that I’m down to less than 6 months remaining; watch this space!
I had an amazing two weeks competing in “I’m an Engineer”; I was asked all kinds of interesting questions. In that time I learned a lot about what students are striving for these days; but I was also amazed by how much I’d learned about myself in that time. I can’t thank everyone enough for giving me the opportunity to chase up ideas I would never have had the chance to otherwise, and I very much look forward to seeing how much further I can take my ideas in the future.
Fancy winning £500 for your own outreach activities? Apply for the next I’m an Engineer event at imanengineer.org.uk/engineer-apply