Dr Tim Minshall, Senior Lecturer in Technology Management recently gave a TEDx talk based around the perception of what primary school children think engineers do.
We have a problem that not enough people want to become engineers.Dr Tim Minshall
Tim talked about an alarming trend in the UK: the lack of awareness of the absolutely critical role that engineers play in our current and future worlds. Of particular concern is the impact this has on young people wanting to become engineers. After all, engineers don’t just fix things; they make things better. Engineers make the future.
Tim gives regular talks at local schools and at the Cambridge Science Festival to enthuse primary school age children about the creative and innovative aspects of what engineers do.
Talking about the TEDx talk Tim said; "Someone involved in organising TEDxGranta had heard about my talks and asked if I wanted to talk about children's perceptions of engineering at the 2012 TEDxGranta event. As a longterm fan of TED talks, I thought this sounded like an interesting opportunity; to try and boil down everything I wanted to say to 18 minutes in a 'video friendly' on-stage format that would engage a very diverse audience.
"Before one of my regular visits to a local school, I asked one of the teachers to administer the 'Draw an Engineer Test' (DAET). DAET was developed by researchers in the US to assess perceptions of engineers, and to measure changes in perceptions following the delivery of outreach activities. It is very simple: children are given some paper and pencils and told: "Please draw a picture of an engineer doing engineering work". The results from the Cambridge school were very interesting. Almost all of them showed men and spanners and hammers, fixing broken-down cars and trains. Nothing about developing new products, nothing high-tech, no bridges being built; just men with spanners and hammers fixing broken things. While fixing things is very important, this did seem to be a rather limited few of what engineers do. So, the TEDx talk started off with these results and then presented 10 words that I felt better illustrated the range of engineering activities. Each word was introduced with some case studies (using PowerPoint slides and/or physical artefacts). The 10 words were: Invent, Do, Improve, Share, Shape, Build, Why? Yes! Oops! and Wow! The talk ended with a request for anyone interested in helping to push forward a more positive view of engineering to contact me."
Tim's TEDx talk is on YouTube and the responses he has received from those who have seen this talk on-line, or who were in the audience, have been numerous and interesting. Former students got in touch to say "Yes! Why don't more people realise this!". Since delivering this talk he has received many invitations to do similar ones (and a more interactive in-class version) in schools, libraries and even at the Hay Festival. The BBC got in touch to request input to a new series they are making on engineering for primary school children. Tim was encouraged to develop a website for children, parents and teachers that tries to help these groups access the diverse range of in-class, after-school and self-study resources provided by EngineeringUK, James Dyson Foundation, Primary Engineer, F1 in Schools and many more. Tim and his team are also planning to make a radio programme on this topic, thanks to a suggestion from one viewer of the TEDx talk. Tim is planning to develop some training activities to help undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in getting involved in similar outreach activities.