Pupils get hands on with robots, God and genetic engineering

hall-question-formatVC opensUniversity of Reading’s Institute of Education welcomed 300 pupils and teachers from across 13 British schools this week in a unique partnership with science and religious education secondary departments.

Pupils from across the UK gathered at the Institute’s Robots, God and Genetic Engineering workshop which was opened by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading. The day was scheduled to include acclaimed scientists from a number of universities, including Reading, who explored stem cells, robotics, ethics and philosophy with their young guests. Workshop sessions included building robots, cloning cauliflowers and discussion about the brain, the mind and free will.

Organiser, Dr. Berry Billingsley,  said:

“Pressure is growing on teachers nationwide to deliver globally and scientifically aware future citizens. Proposed new GCSEs are likely to have a heavy focus on genetics, and for the first time evolution is likely to be part of the Primary School science curriculum. So it’s not a surprise we have been inundated by schools from across the country wanting to take advantage of our free workshop, that sets out to nurture pupils to ask not only ethical questions but also bigger questions about life and what medical science can do for us and to us.”

Prof John Bryant, a speaker on genetic engineering and bioethics, Dr Nick Hawes from Birmingham’s Intelligent Robotics Lab with robot ‘Dora the Explorer’, Prof Kevin Warwick, cybernetics expert and inventor of the robot rat complemented a frenzied day of activities for the enthusiastic teenagers:

One of the many sessions  looked at … What makes a robot a robot?

hawesDr Nick Hawes from the University of Birmingham looked at what makes a robot a robot, and, more importantly what it takes to create an autonomous (perhaps even intelligent) robot that can work in human environments. With assistance from Dora (pictured here) a robot that can explore and search for household objects, he discussed with the students the problems of robot sensing, planning and action.

 … while another session considered how far we can improve as humans

Professor John Bryant (pictured seated next to Nick Hawes) is a speaker on genetic engineering and bioethics.  He looked at Genetic Selection and Genetic Engineering and considered the fascinating question,  ”Can we make better humans?”

… So what did the students think?

music-class“Although I googled the event the day before I wasn’t really sure what the day would bring. Now my head is buzzing with even more questions then I came with. I really want to know more about programming now, because I can see what I can do with it. It’s really made me think about and all the things I could do with my GCSE choices this year.” Tim, 15, City of Norwich School.

“I was amazed by the sophistication of the robots on show. I imagine reasoning robots in the future to make our world more efficient than it is now. I would really like to talk to my friends about what I’ve seen today. I belong to a student society at school and today has made me want to plan a science at school day to tell people about what we’ve seen and learnt.”   Delamram, 14, Bentleywood High School.


… And their teachers?

“The day was brilliant for showing students that questions can be cross-discipline and to open students’ minds to a deeper understanding of contemporary issues is science and religion. Good opportunity for RE/Science teachers to talk and discuss key questions and to think about the importance of these in the curriculum. A stimulating, enjoyable day.”

Ms Sophie Clapp, teacher, Heathfield Community college, East Sussex.


“Our academy is science based and our aim is to focus on the gifted and talented. Today’s workshop has not only opened our pupils eyes, but has made me think about all the ways our staff can get young people to engage in learning. The most significant part of today’s invitation is how many pupils have told me that they don’t think that going to University is boring anymore. That’s a really valuable aspiration to work towards.”.

Rob, a Science Teacher at Shire Oak Academy, Brownhills, Walsall


“Really enjoyed the interactive questioning and deep level thinking in the ‘all you need is science – is it?’ session with Revd Mark Laynesmith. Really helpful how the Vice Chancellor opened the day and the way the themes he identified carried through.”

Philip Maxfield, teacher, St Michael’s Catholic School, Buckinghamshire.


“The media and scientists rarely talk about the ethical and moral issues surrounding science so I feel that days such as this one are a great way of getting pupils to think beyond the just the science. Often in the very full science curriculum there is very little time for a good debate on scientific and moral ethics. Again the curriculum does not encourage cross-discipline work hence a day like today is a very helpful spade to explore cross discipline questions.”

T Wade.

This is the second event at the Institute of Education of its kind and is supported by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge.

To find out about forthcoming events, visit www.faradayschools.com or email the LASAR events coordinator at lasar@canterbury.ac.uk

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