Taking on the STEM challenge

Taking on the STEM challenge

In partnership with the Science Museum and STEM Learning, the BP’s Ultimate STEM Challenge is inviting students aged 11 to 14 to use their STEM skills to help reduce our impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future

In March this year, twelve teams from secondary schools around the country descended on London’s Science Museum for the Ultimate STEM Challenge final. This national competition from the BP Educational Service challenges students aged 11-14 to develop energy efficient solutions to real-life challenges faced by BP.

By exploring the practical uses of science, the challenges help to inspire young people to consider further study and careers in STEM.

The students work in groups of two to four at a STEM club, in class or as an independent project, before submitting their project via PowerPoint or YouTube. STEM Ambassadors from STEM Learning are also available to guide and inspire students as they take on the challenge.


Speaking at this year’s final, BP’s UK schools education manager Samantha Bulkeley said: “By investing in STEM education, BP and other industries certainly do benefit in the long-term. It’s vitally important, not only to help young people aspire to and understand the careers they can go into, but to ensure companies like ours have a future talent pool that they can use.”

But the Ultimate STEM Challenge is not just about traditional science skills. Alongside innovation, the judges look for creativity, teamwork and strength of communication. Developing these skills is appealing for teachers and students alike.

The eventual winners, Bredon Hill Academy in Worcestershire, revelled in the platform it gave them to present and work as a team: “Our confidence has grown so much, from practising our presentations in front of our year group last week to presenting to a room full of people today.”


Bredon Hill’s winning entry drew inspiration from nature, with the team basing their design for an energy efficient wing on the flying Draco lizard.

The judges praised their innovative solution, excellent method, strong communication skills, creativity of thought and passion for STEM. Through their involvement, the team came to see how, “STEM can be a gateway to so many things.”

Teachers see the competition as an opportunity to supplement their delivery of STEM subjects, either for those who seek an extra challenge or those who may otherwise struggle to engage.

Philip Lynch, physics teacher at Colyton Grammar School in Devon, explained how, “the Ultimate STEM Challenge is perfectly designed to encourage those students who perhaps don’t already have an interest in STEM. Having taken part in this process, we can see them pursuing STEM careers because they now see it as a real option.”


The Ultimate STEM Challenge is informed by the concept of ‘science capital’, developed in part through Enterprising Science, a five-year partnership between King’s College London, the Science Museum and funded by BP. Enterprising Science investigated how schools and teachers can engage more young people in STEM.

This recently established term applies the concepts of social and cultural capital to a scientific context. We can help encourage young people to see science as ‘for them’ by providing personalised and localised learning opportunities in the classroom which help science learning to resonate with their everyday lives.

Prof Louise Archer, director of Enterprising Science, spent time experimenting with ‘science capital’ learning techniques around the UK. She recalls how 15 year‑old Kyle, at an inner-city school in the north east of England, dismissed science as “boring” and “pretty useless”.

“Kyle and his friends couldn’t see how science relates to their everyday lives.
These views illustrate a key problem facing science education”, Louise explained. “While policy makers and industry stakeholders worry about the STEM skills gap, teachers are faced with the unenviable challenge of engaging students with the often-abstract nature of science.”

Their work shows that the “personalise and localise” approach is bringing about an increase in student engagement: “Our analysis also suggests that this approach can boost career aspirations across science.” As teachers recount, relatable science teaching can create “lightbulb moments” when students “suddenly sit up and engage”.


Now in its fourth year, the Ultimate STEM Challenge is back with three new challenges on the theme of ‘My Sustainable Future’. Teachers and students can choose one of three sustainability challenges which will see them generating electricity from moving water, generating biomethane from food waste, or conserving water with sustainable methods.

With the world’s ever-increasing demand for natural resources and global warming one of today’s biggest environmental threats, the focus on sustainability is more relevant than ever. By switching young people on to the need to reduce our environmental impact, the Ultimate STEM Challenge will demonstrate to young people how STEM is vital in helping to create a more sustainable future.


Teachers and students can choose from three brand new challenges: Handy Hydro, Parched Plants and Brilliant Biogas.

The deadline for entries is 12 January 2018, with winners receiving an Ultimate STEM experience day, £500 to spend on science equipment or field trips, and Science Museum goody bags.

For full details on the competition, access to STEM Ambassadors and to download the Ultimate STEM Challenge resources, please visit the link below.

Further Information: