New STEM learning programme takes off at Duxford

Posted on 10 Mar 2015 by Jonny Williamson

A collaboration between the Imperial War Museum Duxford and Boeing has led to Partners in Flight, a new outreach project which aims to counter gaps in technical and engineering skills in the workplace by enthusing and encouraging children to enjoy STEM activities from an early age.

Partners in Flight aims to inspire primary and middle school children in the East of England to recognise how science, design and technology, computer science, engineering and mathematics can lead to rich and varied career paths by presenting those subjects in an engaging and enthusiastic way.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress, one of the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War, forms the centrepoint for the learning activity.

One of the largest aircraft to see service during the Second World War, the B-29 was one of the most advanced aircraft of its time.  The crew areas were pressurised and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays. The tail gunner had a separate pressurised area that could only be left during unpressurised flight.

The B-29 was also the heaviest production aircraft because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements.

During the outreach session, children work together to re-assemble a large 1/8 scale model of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress from its component parts.

They will also participate in STEM challenges, including navigating and calculating routes; measuring optimum air pressure for sustainable human life; balancing fuel and payload, and calculating gun turret firing control.

The project also hopes to inspire primary school STEM teachers to try new and innovative ways of teaching in the classroom, through hands-on sessions with their classes and Continuing Professional Development Teachers’ Days, which run in conjunction with the National Science Learning Centre Consortium (Central England).

At an exclusive event yesterday to launch the programme, Sue Chippington, head of the Department for Learning at IWM Duxford told The Manufacturer: “This exciting new programme will show how the science and technology of the past can be used as an educational tool for the future to inspire potential scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

The completed model and its triumphant assemblers (image courtesy of Rupert Hartley).
The completed model and its triumphant assemblers (image courtesy of Rupert Hartley).

Aiming to take the B-29 model out to 2,000 children by the end of 2015, Chris Jefferson, IWM Duxford’s STEM learning officer, added: “STEM has been developing as a more hands-on side of education, and I want to promote STEM in the way that credits roll at the end of any film.

“You may not know what all of their jobs entail, but everyone named has been involved in that particular film and the wider industry. It’s not just the names and faces in lights, such as for the actors and directors, the team is far broader than that.

“The challenge for us is to marry history with science. Britain has been at the pinnacle of industrial engineering for centuries and we need to maintain that position. We also need to encourage more women into engineering, and the aim is to have 50% of all UK engineering graduates by 2030 to be female.

“Ultimately what we are trying to do is inspire children, but also teachers to set up additional projects both before and after our involvement. We aren’t even restricting STEM to the four core subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics); the project can involve many other subjects and truly be cross-curricular and I believe STEM shouldn’t be so rigorously pigeon-holed.

“By broadening STEM’s scope and reach, companies looking to sponsor an outreach project like Boeing has here, have their boxes ticked as well and are, hopefully, more likely to become involved.”