Thursday 19 September 2019

Eight-foot catapults and drones for 3D printing - Award-winning engineer on how we should teach our children in schools

The UCD Festival is back for its third year on Saturday, 9 June 2018
The UCD Festival is back for its third year on Saturday, 9 June 2018
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

The Irish schools’ science curriculum needs to change to properly engage children, according to an Irish engineer who was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of Europe’s brightest young minds in science and medicine.

Colin Keogh, a research engineer in UCD, says he was lucky enough to grow up under the guidance of his mechanic father – otherwise science would have been a unpalatable and staid subject for him.

Ireland’s eduction system is built around rote learning, instead of encouraging children to build things or investigate how things work.

“We’re putting too much focus on the academic in schools.”

“Unfortunately the education system here is still quite old skool with book learning and rote learning, where you can watch someone show you how to do something, and that’s your learning experience.”

“The best option is when students do something for themselves; the second is when you watch someone do it, and the worst option is when someone tells you how to do it.”

 “I used to be a car mechanic; my father was a car mechanic so I was always interested in cars and engines. I was studying maths and science and the linear curriculum, but then I could go home at the weekends and take a car and a computer apart as well.”

“It’s the practical bits that are important. You give a box of Lego to children or adults, they’ll do the same with it, they’ll all build something.”

Topics like steam and force and velocity are hugely important in science education, but they’re not taught interactively, Keogh says.

“Kids are used to getting immediate gratification on social media, so keeping kids more interested is more important now than ever before. We need more thinking based sessions, and create an atmosphere where they get to apply what they learn very, very soon after learning it.”

“At its core, some of the stuff is boring. How it’s presented can be quite boring, but it’s necessary because it’s the core of what it is, but you need to understand why you’re learning it and what it’s used for.”

“I’d integrate all of the subjects together. One day you’re doing ancient Irish culture, then the next day you’re building a little model of a crannóg. If there was way more experience-based learning, it would connect with an awful lot more people.”

“In some cases in school, science is being taught in a way that unfortunately you don’t even engage the students’ brain.”

Colin will demonstrate fun experiments using his eight-foot tall catapult and drone at the UCD festival, on June 9.

“All of the stuff I do is hands on and practical. I will have the catapult with me and teach physics, 3D printers where I’ll teach about products and design.”

 “I use an eight-foot tall catapult, about the size of a car, to teach physics. We throw televisions 100 feet away and boulders and rocks. You can teach children very dry, staid subjects in that way. Then everyone is interested.”

“I’ve got a camera drone. I use it for filming, to film different places and events, but I also use the drone to take hundreds of photos of an object or area, and stitch them all on a computer to build 3D model. I can put it into a computer game or whatever you want.”

Colin co-founded The Rapid Foundation, which sends 3D printers to developing countries, and gives them training in how to use them.

“We send 3D printers overseas with training and accessories to under developed areas, teach them how to use the printer, how to design and be creative, and help them solve their own problems.

“We just support the people in the region to support themselves. We give them access to training and support so they can help themselves.”

“It was one of the first projects anywhere in the world to do that. We have no offices and staff so costs are zero, so you can have a massive impact for no salaries.”

“We’ve done work with National Learning networks, local primary schools. Encouraging kids to be more innovative and to think for themselves.”

For more information on the UCD Festival, see

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