a·maz·ing/əˈmāziNG/

Adjective:
  1. Causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.
  2. Startlingly impressive.

The last few days have indeed been amazing. Autodesk University (AU) brings together a couple of thousand designers, engineers, architects, educators, and the odd land surveyor, to Las Vegas for a feast of career development classes, networking opportunities, fun interactive sessions, inspiring speakers and the chance to be dazzled by the incredible technology available to each and every one of us.

The appearance on stage at yesterday’s opening session of a 27-year-old (I repeat, 27 year old) Engineer made our Founder, Alison Watson, grin from ear to ear.

“I’m afraid I have been known to get on my soapbox a little when it comes to career perceptions in the UK, and particularly when it comes to engineering as most kids (and a number of teachers) automatically think ‘car mechanic’.

When this giant of a guy stood on stage and told us of his work designing a new moon buggy for NASA I wanted to jump on stage, bundle him in a bag and ship him home, just so I could sprinkle a little bit of ‘wow’ over the kids back home.

However, when I told fellow Built Environment professionals that we have kids half that age who are using Autodesk software to design amazing structures, they too displayed the same wide-eyed, big smile expression. “No way! Thirteen years old? No way!”

“Well, no, actually that’s not quite right,” I told them. “Some of them are as young as ten”.

“The difference? They are taught by teachers who share our vision. A vision that young people, given the opportunity to play, will fly with this technology like a PlayStation game.

These teachers are not afraid to learn themselves, not afraid to have a go at clicking that icon and seeing what happens. And some of these teachers were at AU.

One teacher I met was doing some great things at his school in New Zealand. He told me great stories of how his kids were having him order rocket kits, but instead of simply piecing them together, they were making controlled modifications to go higher, faster, last longer before they blew up (!).

“He had taught himself how to use Revit Architecture –  the same software we introduce in our KS3 Design Engineer Construct! curriculum – and he was desperate to teach his kids. But he was worried that he didn’t know enough to do the best job and had come to AU for some support, and to find a way of teaching the software in context.

“I suggested that he took the theme of space travel, since his students were already lunar design engineers in their own right, and have the students design a building where the astronauts could live once they’d made it on their great journey to the moon. This would give them some real challenges.

“What material would they use which would be light and flexible enough to carry? How would the lack of atmosphere affect their designs? What about the number and type of rooms? And so on and so forth.

“To me, this teacher, just like the teachers we work within the UK, is a hero. His greatest strength is his willingness to think outside the box, to give his kids the opportunity at his own risk. His failure would be their success: I guaranteed that in a matter of weeks, they would be correcting his mistakes and helping him progress his own skills.

“Bite the bullet and do it.

“I can remember having a similar conversation with Autodesk when I first asked them to support software into secondary schools. I told them, let’s not be prescriptive. Let the kids get the design principles right on a practice model (i.e. an eco classroom) and then let them have some fun. Prepare them to build the next Houses of Parliament, the next White House, the next space station….

“You’ll be rewarded one thousand times over when your own students stand on that stage in a few years to come and thank you, their remarkable teacher, for having the courage to cut them loose.”

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