Heathrow Engineering Secondary School Challenge

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On Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th February we were pleased to welcome Learning to Work and some fantastic volunteers from Heathrow Airport into school to run the annual Heathrow Secondary Schools Engineering Challenge with our Year 8 students. The challenge sees students building, coding and then racing a Lego Mindstorm robot, and ends with a very useful overview of some of the careers that Heathrow supports and the apprenticeship programmes on offer at the airport. A student report on the challenge follows:

By Riya Gupta, Year 8
Now in its seventh year, the Heathrow Secondary School Challenge gives Year 8 pupils the chance to learn new skills in areas such as engineering and technology and encourages them to start thinking about their future careers. It forms part of the Government’s STEM programme, which aims to get more young people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths.

This year, the Challenge focuses on coding and is based on the 21 driverless ‘pods’ that are used to transport passengers from business car parks to Terminal 5. Working in teams, the pupils are tasked with building their own pod out of Lego, then programming it to travel a set route. Even though the POD was pretty easy to make, it required teamwork since it would be made more efficiently if it was made together. This also enhanced our communication skills. The teams in which we were doing this were arranged for us, meaning that we did not necessarily know everyone in our team very well.

After this, we had to come up with names for our robots and were assigned a lane in which we could test our coding. There was a small racecourse made out of Lego through which we had to code the robot to go. We then spent the next hour or so trying to code our ‘bot. This meant we were shuttling back and forth between the table, where the laptop was, and the racecourse, where we needed to see whether our code was right or wrong. The racecourse itself was not tricky, but instead it was the fact that there were many variables that could change what your ‘bot would do. For example, changing the power at which a certain step is being done could potentially change the entire code. This did happen to the team I was in - we had finally overcome an obstacle that took us ages to do but we then changed the code very slightly and it all went wrong! In the end, we did get past that and did manage to finish the course.

Towards the end of the workshop, we had a race to see which team was the most successful coder. It happened in three heats; each one had five teams, one in each lane.  The top three ‘bots would then compete in the finals. To my team’s utter surprise, we made it into the finals. Even though we did not win, it was a great experience to help us in the future.