Researchers drum up interest in engineering

Two University of Cambridge engineers plan to use steel drums to get more children interested in science, technology and manufacturing.

The researchers, Soren Maloney and Nigel Williams, said that children from ethnic minorities in particular have underachieved in science and mathematics in UK secondary schools. They argue that steel drums could be just the thing to get them interested.

The pair, who work in the university’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), are developing a pilot programme which will initially target schools in London. They plan to produce a workbook, video and teaching pack and run a month-long project with children to test its viability.

“My PhD research looked at the materials and manufacturing of Caribbean steelpan drums,” Maloney explained. “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.”

“There are lots of summer programmes designed for underprivileged kids. They give them a taste of what engineering is all about,” added Williams.

“But for some students you need something grounded in their own experience, something that is culturally relevant. 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 researchers are applying for grant funding from the Higher Education Academy to develop their curriculum and launch the pilot project.

Maloney said: “The project focuses on the music, and is able to demonstrate the impact different scientific and manufacturing processes have on the sound. We think the project makes engineering relevant to these children in a way that other programmes don’t.

“We want to pilot it in London and show how powerful relevance can be in attracting youngsters to science. Then we would eventually hope to role it out to places like Birmingham, Luton and Manchester, we could even take it back to Trinidad.”

Williams and Maloney have published a paper - the Pedagogy of the Pan - in the London Journal of Tourism, Sport and the Creative Industries, outlining the opportunities provided by the scheme.

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