Let Teachers SHINE winner 2022: Vacaas Zaman – STEM buggy project

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Students who find mainstream education challenging will be given hands-on experience of science and mathematics in action after their teacher won £10,000 funding from Let Teachers SHINE.

Vacaas Zaman, who teaches science at Stephen Longfellow Academy in Leeds – hopes his award-winning project will engage students in STEM subjects and “get them thinking about science in a different way”.

The academy is an alternative provision, which means it caters for vulnerable children and young people who are unable to access mainstream school for reasons including school exclusion or behavioural issues. Most students are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Thanks to the Let Teachers SHINE award, from education charity SHINE, students will build a working buggy, while accompanying lessons will explain the science behind their work.

“Our students have found education extremely difficult and some have had multiple exclusions. They have experienced many forms of barriers to education and have not been able engage successfully,” Vacaas explained.

“Our aim is to break down these barriers, re engage our students within an educational setting, provide with sufficient GCSEs and life skills for them to grow and break the cycle of poverty.”

Vacaas realised that an effective way to engage his students was to link lessons to their interests.

“A lot of the conversations that we have when we are at breaktime, are around motorbikes and cars – that’s what the students like, that’s what they enjoy,” he said.

“I thought that if I can link science to something that they enjoy and help them get hands-on and practical with a project, it could be an amazing experience for them and help them to re-engage with education.

“These students are from really deprived backgrounds. They don’t often get pushed to do hobbies or activities or anything extracurricular. The experience of building a working car will be amazing for them.

Vacaas is creating a long-term teaching plan to ensure that the project is linked to the requirements of the national curriculum, and GCSE examinations. He believes it will lead to improved outcomes and opportunities for those taking part.

“What you see here and in other alternate provisions, is real untapped potential. Many of these students are intelligent, but they simply don’t know that they’ve got the potential to be a success.

“If we can get them to realise that we can make them successful.

Vacaas said he was “over the moon” to win Let Teachers SHINE. “To know this project, that I have been researching and talking about for so long, is actually going to happen is absolutely amazing.”

The pilot scheme will run over two years, with two different groups of students building a buggy. And Vacaas hopes to extend the programme in future, both at his academy and at other alternative provision providers around the country.

“I think that what we’re trying to do here will be recognised nationally. It’s not an easy project by any means, but if successful, I think we can have a real impact.”