What's the bright idea? New competition to inspire young scientists and innovators

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How can countries produce the energy their cities need without destroying the planet? It’s one of the biggest challenges facing humans in the 21st century and one Shell is posing to pupils aged 11 to 14 across Great Britain in a new competition to inspire future scientists and engineers. Anna Haslam reports.


Our world today is more exciting, dynamic and fast moving than it has ever been, and it is scientists and engineers that have made this modern life possible. They’ve cured diseases, transformed communications and sent mankind to the depths of the oceans and into space.

That power to transform and to positively shape our future should make being a scientist or engineer the most coveted, over-subscribed career in the world, with students clamouring to become one. But unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. EngineeringUK predicts that the UK has an annual shortfall of over 55,000 engineers.

The current skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is one of the biggest challenges facing all of us in the UK. Without a rich talent pool of future scientists and engineers, our ability to technologically innovate and to ensure we’re all well placed to tackle the huge challenges that lie ahead is fundamentally compromised.

That is why Shell is offering a new programme of national schools workshops, competitions and events that aim to inspire students to see how what they learn in STEM lessons can solve real-world issues. The programme includes ‘The Bright Ideas Challenge’, which will invite students aged 11 to 14 to explore the energy challenges that face future cities. We are also hosting ‘Make the Future’, a unique festival of bright energy ideas. We’ll share some detail about these two initiatives, including how your school can get involved, in just a moment.

But first, why does Shell believe events and challenges like this are so important?

A world of possibilities

Put simply, we believe that the answer to inspiring more young people to pursue STEM education and careers – including students from a diverse range of backgrounds – is to help them understand how important science and engineering are to the world around them. These are not abstract disciplines, but subjects that can open a world of possibilities. To help students re-assess their attitude to STEM subjects and seriously consider STEM careers, we need to help them understand the potential and what it means for them. This means engaging them before they make big decisions, including their subject choices at GCSE and Standard Grade, to ensure they don’t unintentionally remove themselves from the STEM talent pool.

Schools and industry need to work together to bring to life the ways in which human ingenuity and innovation, rooted in STEM expertise, have the power to drive change that impacts us all – from ensuring a constant supply of clean water for our expanding population, to meeting growing energy needs while reducing CO2 emissions.

Ultimately, we need to inspire young people to consider the positive role they can play in shaping and bettering the world they’ll live in – and 2016 is going to be an exciting year for inspiring students to do just that.

Many of the teachers reading this will know about Shell’s work with Tomorrow’s Engineers. Our investment of over £1million has enabled the launch of a new programme – The Energy Quest. This programme is giving hands-on engineering experience and careers information to 70,000 students over the next three years. To build on this work, we are inviting students across the UK to participate in two exciting new initiatives.

The Bright Ideas Challenge

Have you ever wondered what cities will be like in 2050? What energy challenges will they face, and how can we find innovative solutions to these issues? That’s the challenge being laid down to secondary students in Great Britain in our brand new, cross-curricular schools competition, which will reward the team with the brightest idea with £5,000 to super-size STEM learning at their school.

The Bright Ideas Challenge, which launched this January, is inviting pupils across Great Britain aged 11 to 14 to imagine creative solutions to energy challenges faced by future cities. With three out of four of us set to live in cities by 2050, it’s a challenge that is completely rooted in the real world that this generation will live in.

Taking learning beyond the textbook and into the real world, the Challenge invites students to have a voice in a pressing issue facing all of us: How can countries produce much more energy, which is vital to raising living standards across the planet, while mitigating environmental challenges?

The Challenge draws on Shell’s well-respected energy Scenarios work, and comes complete with a step-by-step teacher toolkit, video resources and fun engineering warm-up activities to make it as easy and rewarding as possible for teachers to deliver.

Young people enter the challenge in teams of up to five. To have a chance at winning, they will have to submit a Bright Ideas Report and can further back up their idea with technical drawings, prototypes and up to three minutes of video.

Supplying the world’s energy transition requires a mixture of vision and realism, urgency and thoughtfulness – all qualities that are central to The Bright Ideas Challenge. Students will need to develop these qualities together with their ingenuity, problem solving skills and STEM expertise to push the boundaries of creativity and to research the potential value and feasibility of their ‘bright idea’. In addition to 11 regional winners, the national winner of the competition will win £5,000 to super-size their school’s STEM lessons.

Ultimately, it is challenges like this that will help future talent recognise that they have an exciting opportunity to apply their STEM skills to tackle big problems and make a real difference.

Get involved! For more information on The Bright Ideas Challenge, visit: shell.co.uk/brightideaschallenge. Here you’ll find everything you need to enter the competition, which could see your school winning £5,000!

Make the Future

The winners of The Bright Ideas Challenge will be revealed at Shell’s second real-world education initiative – Make the Future – a four day festival of innovation to be held at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 30 June to 3 July 2016.

At Make the Future, students will be able to see future energy ideas and technologies from around the world, take part in a wealth of interactive science shows and hands-on experiments, as well as immerse themselves in STEM-related career experiences.

The showpiece of the festival will be Shell Eco-marathon Europe, one of the world’s longest running student initiatives, which is coming to London for the first time in its 30 year history.

The race will see hundreds of student teams from across Europe push the limits of engineering creativity to design and build hyper-efficient cars fuelled only by ingenuity and a litre of fuel. The current record stands at 3,771km – that’s from London to Rome and back again on just one litre of fuel!

This challenge provides older students with a European-wide platform to test the vehicles they have designed and built to the very limit. Perhaps most importantly though, it also inspires younger students to see how STEM skills can be applied to the creation of innovative products that can power low carbon, high quality lifestyles in our future cities.

Any school in Great Britain is invited to attend with students in Year 6, 7, 8 and 9 on Thursday 30 June or Friday 1 July 2016. Save the date in your diary – we recommend teachers register today as tickets are being issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

Get involved! Register your school for free tickets to attend Make the Future London at: shell.co.uk/mtfschools. But hurry, because they’re going fast!

Shell’s hope for the future

We hope to demonstrate to a broader range of students than ever before that some of the world’s brightest ideas are generated by STEM conversation, by STEM collaboration and by great minds coming together.

It’s the possibility of a great idea that inspires every engineer and scientist to keep on investigating, keep on researching and keep on pushing new boundaries. And that’s exactly the opportunity we want to give to young people through our education programmes, to inspire them to become the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.

Anna Haslam is Head of UK Social Investments at Shell.

Creative Teaching & Learning
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