Preschool and primary engineering

The aim of the project is to investigate what activities and approaches are the most effective at introducing engineering to 3-7 years, linking with ongoing funded projects. Engineering is hugely important to the UK economy, contributing 26% of GDP. The shortage of skilled engineers is a problem for the UK, exacerbated by the lack of diversity in the Engineering workforce; addressing these challenges would lead to a huge economic benefit, e.g. it has been estimated that $12tr could be added to global annual GDP by harnessing the full economic potential of women.

The majority of activity related to engaging and inspiring school children is aimed at older age groups despite evidence highlighting the benefits for primary school age children. Research has found children begin forming career aspirations as young as 4, with little change after age 7, and at these ages are strongly influenced by gender stereotypes. Interesting recent studies looked at simple changes in language at engaging girls in science or the colour of resources. As young girls already have the view that they are not like scientists inviting them to participate in “being scientists” is less effective than “let’s do science” activities. Pastel coloured materials did not increase the interest of girls in engineering but were off-putting to boys, as they saw these colours indicating that the activities “weren’t for them”.

Many reports recommend that interventions should start early, in primary school, and that a key factor in encouraging uptake of STEM subjects/careers is science capital and interventions should focus on raising science capital targeting not only of young people but their families.

By the summer initial resources will be developed - this project could explore pilot trials of activities to suggest further design iterations. Other work involves investigating the attitudes of engineers, parents and teachers to inform design and delivery of activities. Alternatively an engineering app for young children could be developed.

The project focus can be tailored depending on the interests and expertise of the student and please contact me to discuss further.

Supervisor name: 
Helen Bridle
Supervisor and Deputy email addresses: 
h.l.bridle@hw.ac.uk