PTC schools competiton hits Top Gear

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The Scalextric4Schools Slot Car Design Challenge got its official launch this week with Top Gear presenter James May giving his backing to the scheme to get pupils using design and engineering skills in a fun way.

We’ve covered the competition before in an earlier blog, but what was interesting at the actual launch was: A) The level of work the kids at the launch school (the John Kelly Boy’s Technology College in Neasden, London) could work to when given the software; B) The clear grasp James May had of the situation facing Britain’s designers; and C) How genuinely interested Mr May seemed to be in what the kids would be doing, in what was really just another celebrity endorsement for a software company.

When asked what he thought the kids would get from the experience, he enthusiastically replied: “A general understanding of how Scalextric works, which includes some very basic physics, electrical theory, circuits and all that type of thing, but I think also, more importantly, the thing that was always a struggle for us when we were kids in the pre-CAD/CAM, pre-rapid prototyping age, which is a sense of how you can come up with an idea and see it all the way through to being an actual, physical artifact.”

“When I was a lad we were still in an age where you maybe sketched something, and then made an engineering drawing, and then from the engineering drawing and the dimensions on it someone would have to make a pattern maybe if it was to be a cast, so someone would be making something out of wood, or a die out of aluminium. Then you started making the component, and then modify it and then go back because it wasn’t quite right, but in this it’s a continuous process, because the data that makes the drawing is the same data that controls the machine that makes the thing. So it’s a very good way of understanding that process, but also at the end of it you’re making something which is fundamentally quite exciting – it’s a small car that will race around a track.” After all, this is a man who knows at least a little bit about cars on tracks.

Alan Patterson, head of design and technology at the college, where CAD and CAM has a big emphasis on the courses taught there described the event as: “A twenty-first century project in schools.” He shed light on the ability of the students, where although a lot of the students do not speak English as their original first language, they still demonstrate high levels of skills in other areas such as maths and drawing, the fundamentals for design and engineering.

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