What I have learned

“STEM is everywhere – all around us in our everyday lives”

Zeiss professional services manager, Sofia Fazal, and Learn by Design education delivery team manager, Stephen Frew, discuss a partnership to bring a hands-on STEM programme to schools in Birmingham

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Learn by Design

Could you give us a little background on the work of Learn by Design?

Stephen Frew, education delivery team manager for Learn by Design (SF): The Learn by Design team work on behalf of schools, corporate and public sector clients to provide quality, value for money, educational products and services to inspire future generations. We work to the highest educational standards, complementing existing learning in schools across the UK every year. Our interactive and engaging workshops range from individual activity days to enterprise education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) curriculum areas. We help clients in both the public and private sector build positive relationships within the education sector and enhance brand reputation in the community.

Learn by Design partners with industry brands for its projects. Can you tell us why this is and how it feels to have formed this collaboration with ZEISS?

SF: Learn by Design understands the difficulty that employers face in reaching out to schools and their learners. We know how vital it is to raise young people’s aspirations in STEM subjects whilst also showing the wealth of career pathways that are available to study in further education. By collaborating with a company such as ZEISS and introducing careers to a primary age group, we pride ourselves in being the first step in opening young people’s eyes to the jobs market and expanding learning possibilities. Every collaboration provides an employer with an opportunity to showcase their brand, and share their company apprenticeship and job roles, whilst sparking a young person’s imagination to think about potential careers.

Why is it so important to engage students of this age group in STEM subjects?

SF: STEM is everywhere – all round us in our everyday lives. The job roles that exist are sometimes hidden from mainstream education and Learn by Design has built a reputation by working alongside the education sector to draw opportunities for young people to discover and explore STEM. We know the impact of STEM learning and encouraging young people to be curious, ask questions and look at the world around them. Science, technology, engineering, and maths topics are key within all our delivery. Bridging the gap between career-related learning along with breaking down gender stereotypes surrounding certain careers is priority when communicating to young people.

We know how vital it is to raise young people’s aspirations in STEM subjects whilst also showing the wealth of career pathways that are available to study in further education

Stephen Frew, Learn by Design education delivery team manager

How could this partnership be helpful for engaging students who may not have considered a future profession in STEM, particularly in an optics-related field?

SF: We are extremely excited to be offering primary age children a chance to learn more about optics-related topics. Developed by our dynamic educational communicators on behalf of ZEISS, it is a new working collaboration that extends our reach into schools whilst providing enhanced learning for young people. The breadth of STEM learning is immense and offering the chance for schools to engage their pupils in a topic that may have not been on their current curriculum is both exciting and rewarding.

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Stephen Frew (bottom right) and the Learn by Design team.

How has Learn by Design had to adapt to the effects of COVID-19, and has the outbreak impacted the plans for the project with ZEISS?

SF: The outbreak of COVID-19 affected the educational world in enormous proportions. Learn by Design immobilised all 150 staff to a work from home model within a week of the spring lockdown. Programmes have been repurposed to digital formats, staff upskilled to produce e-learning solutions and even more innovative adaptations are being developed. We are excited that these new offerings will build a blended learning offer moving forward beyond 2020 and add to the value of every project we deliver.

What has been your key takeaway from the partnership so far?

SF: The team at ZEISS and their marketing agency, One Black Bear, have been a pleasure to collaborate with, continuing to adapt and liaise at a fast pace to work during these difficult times. We have been excited to deliver a project that young people would enjoy and learn from. We are confident that we will have a long-standing partnership moving forward and that the opportunities to enhance further future learning experiences for young people is bright.

It is great to educate children on the basic principles of robotics and optics as both are so crucial to the technologies we all benefit from in today’s modern world

Sofia Fazal, professional services manager at Zeiss

Could you tell us about the decision to partner with Learn by Design? How long has this project been in development and what led to the partnership?

Sofia Fazal, Zeiss professional services manager (SFA): As a foundation, ZEISS has long been committed to corporate social responsibility and has facilitated some STEM initiatives in the UK over the last few years, but the business decided early in 2020 to look for a more strategic partnership. A shortlist of STEM organisations was drawn up and three were invited in to present to the ZEISS team. Learn by Design totally blew us away with their passion for STEM, their understanding of ZEISS’s innovation focus, and the practicalities of what they could offer. Being based locally also helped as our aim is to support inner city schools in Birmingham and to ignite a love of STEM subjects from an early age.

What has formed the basis or focus of the project and workshops planned with Learn by Design?

SFA: This year-long programme is a fun, team-based programme created to inspire students to find out more about STEM. It has been designed with the STEM curriculum at the centre, covering topics like: vision and light, colours, the sight of animals, how eyes age, visual disabilities, lenses and mirrors, and robots.

For example, one session develops the idea that light, eyes, and the brain are all important for us to see. Students will be led through a discussion on what light is, examples of light sources, how the human works, a comparison of human and robot eyes and also how lenses and other technology can help people see. They will take part in activities like simple robot programming and various experiments involving prisms, visual impairments and lenses.

Another activity is a competition whereby the schoolchildren will be challenged to come up with their own innovative idea for how lenses and/or robotics can help people to see better.

Could you tell us about the decision to incorporate areas of robotics that are key to ZEISS’s work into the programme?

SFA: We use state-of-the-art technology across all four of our business segments to offer exceptional products to our customers. From medical diagnostic technology and microscopy, to semiconductor manufacturing technology, cinematography and vision care, we offer solutions that shape technological progress. At ZEISS Vision Care, we utilise cutting-edge technologies to develop premium vision solutions that offer consumers precise, optimum vision. The workshops we have created with Learn by Design will ignite an interest in STEM by looking at the creation, development and use of technology to create products and services. Not only that, the workshops will aim to ignite an interest in optics, covering key topics such as refraction and light.

How do you think the programme might help to engage and influence future optometrists or optics professionals?

SFA: The programme has been created to inspire students to find out more about STEM, with key topics covering subjects such as vision and light, there is much in the project that will illustrate how important our sector is.

Representatives from ZEISS will be conducting a number of school visits (in due course) to share their experiences and passion, which we think will be very effective in engaging future optics professionals.

What have you taken away from this project so far?

SFA: It is really exciting to be involved in inspiring young people to think about the wealth of career options available to them in STEM focused roles. In particular, it is great to educate children on the basic principles of robotics and optics as both are so crucial to the technologies we all benefit from in today’s modern world.

From working on this project, would you have a top tip for optometrists and practices in how they could help to engage the next generation in STEM topics?

SFA: The optical professionals we partner with are very welcome to look at the material that we are developing with Learn by Design and this could inspire all sorts of initiatives that optometrists could run locally with schools, like visits, at some point in the future, but also competitions and even career talks. We are keen to inspire young people to consider a career in STEM and to encourage a passion for innovation and technological advancement – key principles that underpin the work we do here at ZEISS.