#STEMCon: Cars, ducks & stemists

Imagination and creativity

We all learnt a valuable lesson during Ward Van Duffel’s talk on LEGO’s STEM programme. Our eyes lit up as we were all given a little packet with 6 pieces of LEGO. This quickly turned to intense concentration as we were instructed to make a duck in 30 seconds. 5-4-3-2-1-STOP! We look around and realise that we have all made different ducks. Duffel emphasises that instead of asking “What is the answer”, teachers need to ask “What are the answers?”.

Both LEGO and Sesame Street approach STEM Education in a similar way: Learning through mistakes. Van Duffel talked about how making mistakes is crucial for children to learn. Sesame Street covered STEM on their curriculum last year and new improved Super Grover 2.0 was the main STEM character. Instead of spouting facts and figures, he solved problems with trial and error, crashing into a mountain or two along the way.

Sesame Street Producer, Carol Lynn Parente (right), was the keynote speaker and was delighted by the positive feedback the STEM season had received. “This year… we had more press for the fact we covered STEM as a curriculum than for celebrity appearances. STEM is actually sexier than we thought”. In true Sesame Street style, we learnt two new words for the day: Stemist (aka Super Grover 2.0) and STEAM (STEM with Arts and this years Sesame Street theme). I’m sure they’ll catch on this side of the water pretty soon!


Finally, I want to end this extra long Science Calling conference special with a truly inspirational story. Leena Gade arrived in style; the doors opened, the sound of an engine filled the room and suddenly a race car was beside the stage. Gade brought us through the long hard journey she took to motor sport. She had an interest in engineering from a young age and remembers at age 12 spending “a lot of time taking apart and putting back together my parents precious things”. After college, she applied to 150+ motor sport companies to no avail. She worked for 8 years in the automotive industry and was committed to realising her dream by working for free with racing teams on weekends.

Her unpaid labour paid off as she joined Audi Sport to become an engineer on their endurance racing cars. Last year, she was promoted to race engineer and had the task of engineering a car for the endurance race of the year, Le Mons. This race goes on for 24 hours and the mileage covered is equivalent to an entire Formula One year. After a long and gruelling race, she became the first women to engineer a car and lead a race win at Le Mons.

Gade’s talk showed me that having inspirational role models is critical. Earlier in the day, a show of hands revealed only a handful of guys from Gallen Community School were interested in going on to study engineering. There was little to no enthusiasm from the girls. Twitter revealed the change in perspective by the girls after Gade had spoken. One female student said “That Audi talk by Leena was class! Motor Sport engineering is unreal”, and another remarked, “Really love to do motor sport now”. I’ve a feeling the students first STEM club project might have something to do with motor racing (pictured below with Leena Gade).

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One thought on “#STEMCon: Cars, ducks & stemists

  1. Whole conference was obviously really interesting. Being up at 6.15 am, travelling the whole way to Tullamore and paying attention all day must have left you completely wrecked- not alone writing your article for today which was definitely an in depth commentary on the day’s proceedings. Brilliant. Well done and get some rest!

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