STEM inspiration from TeenTech

Written by: Maggie Philbin? & Margaret Craw | Published:
Innovation: The team from Dalziel High School won the People’s Choice Award at the 2018 TeenTech Awards (Image: TeenTech Awards)

With a new term underway, Maggie Philbin, co-founder of TeenTech, and teacher Margaret Craw explain how the TeenTech Awards are helping schools to change attitudes to science, engineering and technology

Maggie Philbin, CEO & co-founder, TeenTech

Now in its sixth year, the annual TeenTech Awards, held at the Royal Society in London before the summer, saw innovations created by pupils from Scottish schools recognised by a panel of industry and celebrity judges.

Dalziel High School from Motherwell collected the People’s Choice Award for its re-imagining of the black box flight recorder, while pupils from Notre Dame High School in Greenock, and St Columba’s High School in Inverclyde, were named as finalists.

In total, 269 schools registered to take part in the awards, resulting in more than 1,500 students from schools across the UK and Europe getting involved in the annual initiative that challenges young people aged 11 to 19 to tackle key societal and environmental issues using the power of science, technology and engineering.

Initial submissions are assessed by panels of industry judges and the finalists are then invited to present their ideas live to a panel of judges made up of industry specialists, celebrities, journalists and eminent academics. The overall winners are then invited to present their idea to TeenTech’s patron, the Duke of York at Buckingham Palace.

The award-winning, industry-led initiative sees many schools entering year-on-year. For Dalziel High School, this is their second year of taking part in the competition, having started it as an activity in their science and engineering club.

Schools and students taking part in the TeenTech programme are provided with resources and year-round support including access to a team of expert mentors from more than 35 universities and 70 companies. Students can also attend a series of live innovation events and workshops with more than 200 scientists, engineers and technology pioneers from companies such as Accenture, Atkins, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, GSK, JVC Kenwood, Symantec, FDM Group, Cross Country Trains, Rolls Royce and Lloyds Banking Group.

Whether they win or not, the real impact of the initiative can be measured in the changes that take place in the schools that take part. As Dalziel High School found out, having students taking part makes a real difference to the whole-school community – inspiring other children to want to do the same.

Many schools start out tentatively with a small group of students and find themselves becoming serial entrants. Teachers find that interest flourishes and they end up with students in the whole year group asking to take part. In many cases, this has led to a rise in students wanting to study design, technology, and engineering.

This is great result for TeenTech, the schools and the students. We know that young people are great users of technology, but they do not necessarily realise that they could invent future technologies. Sparking this interest and giving pupils the opportunity to be excited by science, engineering and technology by tackling hands-on real-life problems is vital in helping them make the leap of faith that they could really be our next generation of innovators.

Margaret Craw, principal teacher, Dalziel High School

Dalziel High School saw an opportunity to enrich their STEM programme by incorporating national competitions into its calendar. TeenTech was selected because it is challenging, develops key skills for work and is a prestigious event.

In 2016/17 we piloted entering the TeenTech Awards through our science and engineering lunchtime club, and a team of three pupils in S2 were so intrigued with the awards that they worked during their school breaks and at home to develop a magnetic door lock with near field communication.

The pupils learned valuable skills in producing their innovation log that detailed the full design cycle of their product, finally submitting their entry in March 2017. Although they did not reach the final in 2017 their Silver Innovation Award for their design and research material spurred the pupils on to re-enter in 2017/18.

The pupils were so inspired by the competition that they actively promoted the competition to their peers at the beginning of 2017/18 with the result that two more teams entered the competition.

Learning many lessons from the previous year, our 2018 entrants – Callum Sergeant, Colin Gass and Cameron Gunn – formed their own company, C-Cubed, and started to research potential projects before finally settling on developing a cloud data storage system for airlines to replace the traditional black box.

As a state-funded school money is extremely tight to procure raw materials, so the pupils contacted companies such as Electro-Components, Tesco Mobile, NXP for help with the donation of raw materials to build their functioning proto-type.

They entered the 2017/18 TeenTech Awards and submitted their innovation log in March 2018. After a six-week wait while first stage judging took place, they heard that they had reached the final.

Now the hard work started. The prototype was tested to ensure the design and encryption were robust. Data was collected on airline disasters that resulted in no-black box being recovered, and production of marketing materials for the re-invented black box started. The pupils contacted TVINACARD for help with promotional material which they kindly donated.

Attending the final in London is a costly affair and we contacted companies such as British Airways and Amba Hotels who kindly agreed to help with the donation of flights and a hotel stay that allowed us to attend the final on June 25.

Final day itself was awesome. The pupils eagerly pinned up their posters and sorted their display in order to fully market their prototype. They did presentations to judges, special guests and fellow entrants. The TeenTech judging day empowered the pupils to build their self-confidence, communication and team-building skills – skills that are needed to build strong children for the world of work.

What a day – they won the People’s Choice Award. Next steps for the pupils and their company C-Cubed? Well watch out, as these boys mean business and they have already launched their business website ( Dalziel High, meanwhile, intends to roll-out the opportunity to enter the TeenTech Awards to all S2 and S3 pupils as well as the Primary P7 pupils from our three associated primary schools. Our winning pupils will be the TeenTech Ambassadors and will be promoting this in all three schools. TeenTech enables our pupils to learn key transferable skills that are essential for the world of work.

Further information

TeenTech runs initiatives with a supporting award scheme to help young teenagers see the wide range of career possibilities in science, engineering and technology. Visit


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