CodeBug Wearables Competition: Rooting for STEM

Wearables are becoming increasingly popular at the moment with the rise of smart watches and fitness bands. Although perhaps a slightly strange concept when you first hear it, a “wearable” is exactly what it sounds like; a piece of tech that you can wear, e.g. a badge, bracelet or even clothing. So it felt rather well-timed that yesterday I had the very great pleasure of judging the element14 CodeBug Wearable Technology Schools Competition (not the catchiest of titles, perhaps, but at least it's descriptive) at Leeds Beckett University.

Back in December, we delivered a CodeBug workshop for the teachers from the ten participating schools – empowering the teachers to empower and support their pupils. Each of the schools were then given a design kit, which included CodeBug and various other bits and pieces, and their Year 7-9 pupils were challenged to create an original wearable tech device. And they certainly rose to the challenge!

STEM subjects are often written off as being 'boring' or 'too difficult' once pupils get to secondary school, but I think that's because they become disconnected from real world relevance. There was no doubt that the youngsters had excitement and passion for STEM from the astonishing array of fantastic ideas on show, ranging from a 'winter warmer' coat with heated back and pockets, to a glove that keeps firefighters safe by warning of temperature or harmful gases.

With so many excellent projects being showcased, it was a pleasantly tough job to decide on the overall winner. In the end, the Judges' Choice award went to Netherwood ALC with their light-up t-shirt to encourage children aged 4-8 years to be more active. Taking inspiration from dance mat games, pupils mounted lights and buttons to the arms and legs of clothes and created a program that randomly turned the lights on and kept score of when the corresponding button was pressed in time.

Seeing CodeBug helping to inspire these pupils to be so creative with technology was really simply fantastic. There was such a buzz in the room and the pride in the pupils' faces was clear to see; they had designed something, made it and it worked! The absolute icing on the cake, though, was hearing several pupils stating that the CodeBug competition had inspired them to study STEM subjects, further. My work here, though far from done, is certainly starting to bear rich fruit.