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A new school of thought

Your career Construction in the classroom

Showing young people relevant and exciting civil engineering projects is the most effective way of attracting them to the industry. Andrew Richards took up the challenge.

In 1998, Hochtief associate director Andrew Richards explained his project to a teacher visiting the site on a placement day. 'Wouldn't it be great to let school kids know about this sort of really exciting and really visual project?' he thought.

Three and a half years later, he has produced the Bridge the Gap CDRom, which is helping teachers to take construction into classrooms.

'Every secondary school in the UK has been sent information about the CD and we have produced 2,000 copies so far, ' Richards explains.

Richards' day job is to develop Hochtief's road and rail business. He had no previous experience in education other than being a member of the ICE's QUEST committee which hands out sponsorships to undergraduates.

The CD explains how the Holywell Bridge in Chippenham, Wiltshire, was constructed. The structure was slid into position by Hochtief beneath the Great Western mainline railway during a short possession period. But in setting out how it was done, the CD makes an interesting and exciting link between the pupils' school work and the real work of the construction industry.

Richards explains that the CD brings together the science, design and technology and mathematics skills studied as part of the national curriculum with the real world.

The complex civil engineering challenge of constructing and sliding a major bridge beneath a busy railway line provides an unparalleled device with which to inspire, he says.

But it also serves as a platform to teach. Aimed at 11 to 14 year olds at key stages 2 and 3, the CD contains detailed lesson plans to give teachers and pupils a clearer understanding of the construction industry and the processes undertaken by civil engineers. By linking this directly to skills learnt in the classroom, the children are quickly able to understand concepts such as length, depth, volume and mass.

The next stage is to widen the CD's reach and Richards hopes he will soon be able to use the internet to boost its availability.

'We need another £7,000 in sponsorship, ' he says, while acknowledging that he has already received generous funds from Hochtief, CITB, Railtrack, the ICE, BAE Systems and Wiltshire County Council.

The cash will enable another 3,500 CDs to be pressed.

It will also enable him set up a schools challenge with the winning team visiting a construction site in Europe.

Richard's ultimate aim is to expand the concept to link the construction industry with more curriculum subjects to appeal to a wider spectrum of ages.

'There is no reason we cannot use construction concepts to teach up to A level, ' he says.

INFOPLUS Andrew Richards will be speaking in defence of the motion 'Civil engineering is of no interest to young people' at Civils 2002.The debate will take place on Tuesday 11 June at 11am.

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