Drumming up interest with IfM

Posted on 14 May 2010 by The Manufacturer

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing believe the steel drum could be the way to get children from ethnic minorities interested in science and technology.

Attempts to encourage minority students into studying engineering have met with varying degrees of success, and Afro-Caribbean males in particular have underachieved in science and mathematics in UK secondary schools. Now Soren Maloney and Nigel Williams of the IfM, part of the Department of Engineering, are working with schools in London to launch a unique pilot project which they hope will help address the problem.

Soren explained: “My PhD research looked at the materials and manufacturing of Caribbean steelpan drums. We realised that the way people go about making these drums teaches some basic elements of engineering and science, acoustics, materials and manufacturing which could be a culturally relevant way of encouraging these kids into engineering.”

Soren joined forces with fellow researcher Nigel Williams to think of how they could present the research as a project which would appeal to youngsters. Nigel said: “There are lots of summer programmes designed for underprivileged kids. They give them a taste of what engineering is all about, but for some students you need something grounded in their own experience, something that is culturally relevant.

“These kids grew up with the steel drum. In fact London had a steel drum orchestra before Trinidad in the Caribbean. What the programme will do is show them how this familiar instrument breaks down into different areas of technological and scientific knowledge. It’s about learning by doing.”

The pair have just had a paper published in the London Journal of Tourism, Sport and the Creative Industries outlining the opportunities provided by the scheme. Aimed at youngsters aged between 15-18, it will involve the children using different materials and processes to make the instruments and seeing the impact on the end result.

The students plan to produce a workbook, video and teaching pack and run a month-long project with children to test its viability. Soren said; “We think the project makes engineering relevant to these children in a way that other programmes don’t. It’s all very well showing them formulas and textbooks. They want to know what engineering can do for them and this project does just that,” added Nigel.

Nigel and Soren are currently applying for grant funding from the Higher Education Academy to develop their curriculum and launch the pilot project.