Entries open today (November 11) for one of STEM education’s most popular competitions, the Longitude Explorer Prize.
Organised by Nesta Challenges and sponsored for the first time by Amazon, the event sees young people aged 11–16 try to develop technological innovations to help solve some of the biggest issues of the age.
Last year’s submissions, for example, included plans to build robotic fish to remove plastic from the ocean, drones to enable wifi access in disaster zones, and an app to help wheelchair users plot level routes.
The winners, a team of five girls from Greenford High School, beat more than 800 peers with their smartwatch app supporting people with dementia to live more independently.
Teams of between two and five young people from UK schools and youth groups are invited to submit technological solutions addressing one of four prize themes:
- Living healthier Helping people live happier, healthier lives
- Living greener Tackling pollution and climate change
- Living together From helping people stay better connected to delivering more sustainable transport
- Living longer Supporting an ageing population
Teams will compete to win a top prize of £20,000 for their school or youth group, while three runners up will be awarded £5,000 each.
Teachers, meanwhile, will be given help to incorporate the programme into lesson plans via an array of free online resources.
Forty teams will go forward to the final, where Amazon will offer expert mentors on topics ranging from data analytics to software engineering to robotics, and help create prototypes of their concepts.
Supritha Rao, a computer science teacher at Greenford High, supervised the team that won last time around.
“The prize is a real eye-opener for students,” she said. “It takes them beyond textbooks, beyond the classroom, to get a taste for life outside school and in industry. It encourages them to push themselves and take responsibility for their learning.
“Our industry mentor was an excellent coach who brought the very best out of the girls, guiding them to make decisions for themselves – something so valuable for teenagers to learn.”
“Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize teaches young people entrepreneurial life skills and supports their development and confidence” – Maddy Kavanagh, Nesta Challenges
This year’s competition, of course, will take place against an altogether different backdrop. Research commissioned by the prize found that more than half of secondary teachers are worried that their Year 7 students will not be able to make up the ground lost to the pandemic by the time they leave school.
Sixty-six percent of secondary teachers, meanwhile, say that COVID-19 restrictions are hampering their students’ ability to learn STEM.
“2020 has been one of the most difficult periods for teachers and young people alike,” said Maddy Kavanagh, programme manager at Nesta Challenges. “Schools are working hard to ensure students are not left at a disadvantage because of lockdown, and youth groups continue to provide vital extracurricular services and support.
“Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize teaches young people entrepreneurial life skills and supports their development and confidence. Participants get to experience first-hand what it takes to create bright ideas and turn them into products and solutions that overcome great societal challenges.
“The prize supports teachers and youth leaders in bringing the STEM curriculum to life, particularly when classroom conditions are challenging, while giving young people ownership over their learning and personal development.”
Applications to this year’s competition will close at 5pm on February 12. For further information or to apply, visit longitudeexplorer.challenges.org