By Maria Rossini, Head of Education at the British Science Association

Headshot of Maria Rossini, Head of Education; woman with light brown hair, wearing a black top, smiling at the cameraI have a confession to make: I’m a sucker for getting a box through the post. From make up, chocolate brownies, crafts… even a plant in a vase, I’ve had some amazing post through my letterbox over the last few years.

Today, however, I was sent some pictures of a box I’m more excited about than any of the others. And I’m not even going to be on the receiving end!

Why am I so excited?

A few years ago, we worked alongside the Royal Society to develop a brilliant CREST Discovery Day resource called Machines of the future that introduces young people (aged 10-14) to the concepts and potential of AI.

Our Discovery Award offers students an introduction to real project work and gives them the freedom to run their own investigations and get a real taste of what it’s like to be a scientist. They can be completed in one day, with students working together in self-managed groups.

Funded by UKRI and the 1851 Royal Commission, we ran a pilot project to help over 50 schools across the UK run the Machines of the future activity, reaching and inspiring thousands of young people to research, develop, design and market a new product using AI to make home life easier.

A participating secondary school teacher from East Anglia said:

I think it brings a new sense of curiosity and discovery to students who have not been afforded the chance to really engage in science.

For many students, particularly those with limited science capital, the project helped increase their confidence when engaging with STEM subjects, enhance their appreciation of the role of research and develop independence and resilience in their work.

For teachers, 92% felt prepared for delivery of their Discovery Day following CPD training, while it also helped them think about their school’s STEM enhancement offer and expand their STEM support networks at all levels.

However, from listening to teachers, we know that the biggest challenges they face are TIME and RESOURCE and that lack of either can be a barrier to delivering this kind of impactful activity.

So at the start of this academic year, we partnered with DeepMind, a leading artificial intelligence company, to see how we could build on the success of the pilot by addressing these issues and reaching even more schools – particularly those who could benefit the most.

In the Autumn term, we got together with teachers from our underrepresented audiences (URA) network, who are working in schools facing challenging circumstances, and listened to what they felt they would need in order to make delivering the activity easier. While we can’t gift any more hours in the day (!), the insights from teachers meant we could come up with a way to make the activity as accessible as possible, giving teachers exactly what they wanted and needed.

So that’s why I’m excited - because the pictures I received show the culmination of all the work that went into developing the original resource and then listening to teachers to make it even more accessible and simple to run.

Our solution?

Introducing our new Machines of the future kit boxes, funded by DeepMind!

So what’s in the boxes?

  • Our new kit boxes are designed to save teachers time - they minimise prep-time and maximise project time. Everything is pre-printed and pre-organised to run the workshops in one day. Where possible, we’ve used high grade paper to allow sheets to be reused over and over again.
  • We’ve turned some of the printable activities into physical products, like our 'decisions' poster and discussion prompt playing cards. These are not only ready to pick up and use straight away but are reusable for future sessions and year groups.
  • Because you never know what kind of space you have to deliver a session in, we’ve included reusable whiteboard rolls that allow students to create and display ideas/posters on any surface (from tables to windows and even brick walls!) Teachers just need to take a picture if they want to keep a record of the work, then wipe clean and reuse with another group, another day.
  • There’s a great book, Machine Learning for Kids by Dale Lane, included in the box which has ideas for further projects to get stuck into once students have been inspired by their Discovery Day.
  • And last but by no means least, we have even popped in 30 CREST Discovery Award certificates for teachers to fill in with their students’ names. While it’s super-easy to register students for CREST Discovery online, we wanted to make these boxes as streamlined as possible. We also know that getting a certificate to celebrate students' achievements is very important to and motivating for them, so having them ready to go as soon as possible after the event is essential.

Who will be getting these amazing boxes?

100 schools across the UK who are members of our URA network have signed-up to receive a free box and are ready to get stuck in with their students over the next few months. I can’t wait to hear how it goes and see their pictures of the boxes in action.

We’ll be working alongside DeepMind to evaluate how these first 100 boxes work out and, if they have the kind of impact we’re anticipating, we can look at ways to roll out the offer to even more schools in the future… Watch this space!

How can I inspire my students through AI?

Good news – our Machines of the future resource is free to download! It will help to:

  • Expand your pupils’ knowledge of machine learning and AI;
  • Develop their understanding of the day-to-day applications of AI, including how it is used in streaming services; and
  • Encourage your pupils to explore the potential of machine learning through some hands-on challenges.

Download your free Machines of the future resource today

If you’re working with students from groups underrepresented in STEM – who we know can reap the greatest academic benefits from taking part in CREST – we also have some fantastic initiatives and events to help you run science enrichment activities in your school.

Explore our support for schools in challenging circumstances

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Read more about our partnership with DeepMind