Alternative Monday 16 – STEAM Power

STEAM Power was the culmination event of our 2017-18 year of Alternative Provision with students from The CE Academy, which saw students design, build and race an electric car against an international field at Rockingham Speedway.

A CE Academy student driving the STEAM Power car

For some of our followers less confident in the power and the reach of the arts, this seemed liked an unusual departure. The engineering industry is promoting the need for creativity in the future workforce, however it almost exclusively focuses on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, English and Maths). Yet participation in the arts is the primary vehicle for developing creativity. As Bob and Roberta Smith points out “Where are our future designers, architects, craftsmen, engineers, technicians, software designers and mathematicians going to come from if no one can draw?”

Buoyed by the confidence from our artists in residence at both Delta Motorsport and world renowned automotive engineering company Cosworth (whose Technical Director Bruce Wood remarked “I’ve never seen a fast engine that wasn’t also beautiful”) we felt an injection of the arts into STEM was a logical step.

Working over several months with artist Andy Eathorne, students constructed the car from hundreds of individual pieces. Once the basic frame was assembled, an electric battery was added along with a speedometer and frequently tested horn.

In the unusual setting of a forest track in the middle of Fermyn Woods, students simulated some likely trackside scenarios: repairing invisible punctures; changing flat batteries; and fixing the malfunctioning speedometer. Andy gradually built up the team’s confidence in controlling and steering the car and driving longer distances before the students gave the bodywork a second coat of paint and adjusted the interior padding and mirrors.

After learning the forthcoming event’s rules and regulations, such as the coloured flag system and reasons for penalties and disqualifications, students had a second opportunity to operate the car; to practice working with videographer Martin Steed who taught students how to film, interview, direct and edit the action live. These skills were put into action on race day when the students livestreamed the event to the public, including setting up a green screen in their designated pit lane, using a teleprompter, and scooping an interview with the race organiser.

On the day, students added the finishing touches to their car by adding sponsors’ logos. After passing the scrutineering check with flying colours, the students finally took part in the Greenpower Formula 24 race.

As our students excluded from mainstream education met other students from seemingly worlds apart, including one team who arrived proudly wearing their school uniform of blazers and straw boaters, confidence levels fluctuated. But our car was both electric powered and STEAM powered.

Leaving many teams stalled on the grid, after a day of racing Team STEAM finished in a highly commendable position halfway up the field – in front of many teams that may have started in equal position on the track, but from an advantageous position in life.

“STEM can only take us so far … Arts are the catalyst not just for the creative industries, but for all industry, from engineering to automotive to advertising”

Cultural Alliance / NESTA Briefing Paper

This project was made possible thanks to Northamptonshire Community Foundation, Green Energy, The Race Club Karting, a donation from the Douglas Compton James Charitable Trust, and The Maud Elkington Charitable Trust.

Look out for more Alternative Monday posts every fortnight, looking back on some of our favourite alternative provision activities.