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Rapid Response Engineering Challenge

Intro, Aims & Rationale



The Rapid Response Engineering Challenge (RREC) is a problem solving activity for S1 and S2 pupils to help them understand the work of civil engineers, particularly in the event of a disaster.

The object of the challenge is to explore the effects of natural disasters and the facilities which the construction industry must provide to save lives.

Organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in conjunction with a team within the school, the challenge is built around a hurricane in Honduras, where the devastation requires engineering assistance to restore basic life systems.

The pupils are challenged to become ‘rapid response’ engineers and undertake relevant lessons in various curriculum areas for two weeks. On the final 'activity day', they complete a series of challenges using the skills and knowledge gained from across the curriculum.

 Aims and Rationale:

The aim of the RREC is to make learners aware of the connections across curriculum areas and the real-life, practical applications of the knowledge and skills they gain in the classroom.

The challenge highlights the role of civil engineers, demonstrating the relevance to the world of work, as well as developing a range of skills for life, skills for work and skills for learning including teamwork and communication.

"The principle of relevance can help staff and others planning the curriculum to connect learning with the young person’s experience and interests in and beyond the school environment. During this period they will increasingly develop informed views and apply these to relevant moral and ethical issues. Experiences which relate to the world of work provide relevance which will be motivating for many. "

(Building the Curriculum 3, Purposes of the Curriculum in S1 to S3)

The RREC also links directly into the development of responsible citizens. Through taking part in the challenge, learners gain an understanding of what life is like in less economically developed countries, and grasp the difficulties in providing basic necessities in the event of natural disasters.

"Children and young people learn about human achievements and about how to make sense of changes in society, of conflicts and of environmental issues. With greater understanding comes the opportunity and ability to influence events by exercising informed and responsible citizenship."

(Social Studies Principles and Practice Paper)

Curriculum & RECC

As stated, the RREC relates to several curriculum based experience and outcomes throughout the whole challenge, including the activity. The development of literacy and numeracy skills in particular are embedded throughout the whole of the Rapid Response Engineering Challenge. These are considered in more detail below:


The following are examples of activities which could contribute to aspects of these experiences and outcomes. For full delivery of these outcomes, further activities in other contexts which extend breadth, challenge and depth need to undertaken.

  • Research global warming and the greenhouse effect.

  • Research natural disasters and what causes them.

  • Test water samples for the presence of bacteria using agar plates.

  • Research diseases spread by contaminated drinking water.

  • Investigate ways in which water can be filtered or purified (activity day challenge).

"I can explain some of the processes which contribute to climate change and discuss the possible impact of atmospheric change on the survival of living things."

(SCN 3-05b)

"I have contributed to investigations into the different types of microorganisms and can explain how their growth can be controlled."

(SCN 3-13b)


The following are examples of activities which could contribute to aspects of these experiences and outcomes. For full delivery of these outcomes, further activities in other contexts which extend breadth, challenge and depth need to be undertaken.

  • Use ICT and literacy skills to create a presentation to WHO (World Health Organisation) on the organisation of disaster relief.

  • Prepare emergency food rations to fulfil dietary requirements.

  • Develop a system to collect drinking water.

  • Tackle practical problems by constructing tents to provide shelter.

"By taking part in practical food activities and taking account of current healthy eating advice, I can prepare healthy foods to meet identified needs."

(HWB 3-30a)

"By using problem-solving strategies and showing creativity in a design challenge, I can plan, develop, organise and evaluate the production of items which meet needs at home or in the world of work."

(TCH 3-14a)


The RREC builds on the following outcomes within literacy as responsibilities of all. For full delivery of the outcomes, further activities in other contexts which extend breadth, challenge and depth need to be undertaken. 

Listening and talking are key skills identified within the literacy framework along with interpersonal and team working skills. These skills for learning, life and work are embedded in the whole of the RREC process as learners constantly engage in discussion with peers, staff and partners. Specific activities can include creating presentations on the organisation of disaster relief or producing scripts for an appeal broadcast.

"I am developing confidence when engaging with others within and beyond my place of learning. I can communicate in a clear, expressive way and I am learning to select and organise resources independently."

(LIT 2-10a / LIT 3-10a)

"When I engage with others, I can make a relevant contribution, encourage others to contribute and acknowledge that they have the right to hold a different opinion. I can respond in ways appropriate to my role and use contributions to reflect on, clarify or adapt thinking."

(LIT 3-02a)


The RREC builds on the following outcomes within numeracy as responsibilities of all. For full delivery of the outcomes, further activities in other contexts which extend breadth, challenge and depth need to be undertaken.

On the activity day, specific numeracy activities include using number skills and problem solving to assist with building a shelter and designing a water transport system. Learners also use measurement to help design a wind anemometer.

"I can budget effectively, making use of technology and other methods, to manage money and plan for future expenses."

(MNU 3-09b)

"I can solve practical problems by applying my knowledge of measure, choosing the appropriate units and degree of accuracy for the task and using a formula to calculate area or volume when required."
(MNU 3-11a)

Social Studies

The RREC relates to many of the social studies experiences and outcomes throughout the whole challenge, including the activity day.

The following are examples of activities which could contribute to aspects of these experiences and outcomes. For full delivery of these outcomes, further activities in other contexts which extend breadth, challenge and depth need to be undertaken.

  • Use artefact and archaeological evidence to investigate the history of the Copan Hondurans and present a theory on why the civilisation disappeared.

  • Examine the climate of Honduras and the links between this and hurricanes. Google Earth 5 could be used to investigate the impact of hurricane devastation.

  • Building a weather-instrument challenge (activity day).

  • Investigate the political rights of the Hondurans and compare with Scotland.

  • Consider what is meant by a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ and consider what this means in an area affected by a natural disaster.

In another problem-solving challenge on the activity day, the RREC makes clear links between social studies and modern foreign languages through an orienteering challenge where the groups are required to use their mapping skills to find key words in Spanish which they have to translate.

Experiences and outcomes

"I can use my knowledge of a historical period to interpret the evidence and present an informed view."

(SOC 3-01a)

"I can investigate the relationship between climate and weather to be able to understand the causes of weather patterns within a selected climate zone."

(SOC 3-12a)

"I have compared the rights and responsibilities of citizens in Scotland with a contrasting society and can describe and begin to understand reasons for differences."

(SOC 3-17a)


Teachers involved in the challenge highlight many key benefits for learners, as listed below.

  • Developing confidence and skills

  • Helping learners to realise the connections across the curriculum as well as the relevance of their work in school to the world of work

  • A greater awareness of responsible citizenship

  • Development of social skills

  • Promoting challenge and enjoyment in learning

Developing skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work

Building the Curriculum 4 outlines the essential skills for learning, life and work which are central to Curriculum for Excellence. The Rapid Response Engineering Challenge highlights the importance of an enterprising approach to learning and teaching, developing employability skills, partnership working, linking to the world of work and learning within a real-life context.

Developing skills

The RREC provides leadership opportunities, extends employability skills such as having initiative, planning, influencing, negotiating and creativity, encourages learners to work with others and allows for sharing and taking responsibility. RREC also provides learners with a wide range of experiences related to the world of work and helps them to understand the value of occupations such as civil engineering. This focus on skills development relates to health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes which are a responsibility of all.

"Enterprise skills are often linked to employability skills. Collectively such skills ensure an individual is ready for the world of work in general, rather than for a specific occupation and are transferrable to a variety of contexts."

(Building the Curriculum 4)

"I am developing the skills and attributes which I will need for learning, life and work. I am gaining understanding of the relevance of my current learning to future opportunities. This is helping me to make informed choices about my life and learning."

(HWB 3-19a)

Learner perspective

Through using a real-life context, the RREC helps learners to understand the value of the skills they are developing as they can see the relevance of what they are learning to their future experiences. It also emphasises the connections across the curriculum, meaning that learners can recognise how the skills they are developing can be transferable. Throughout the challenge, there are numerous opportunities for learners to reflect on the skills which they are developing and this is given specific emphasis in the evaluation after the activity day.

"It is important that children and young people are aware of, and understand, the value of the skills that they are developing. Adults, practitioners and learners should reflect together on their progress in the range of skills that they consider to be important in their learning, lives and work."

(Building the Curriculum 4)

Partnership working

Working in partnership can add value to contextual learning and skills development. With the support of specialist organisations, learners can see the relevance of what they are learning, and can put into practice, in a meaningful situation, the skills they have developed.

"Curriculum for Excellence can best be delivered through partnership working. All Establishments should work with partners and share a common understanding and language around skills development and application. Together, they should plan and deliver learning and other experiences which meet the needs of individual children and young people."

(Building the Curriculum 4)

Developing global citizens

Participating in the RREC can help learners to develop a greater awareness of responsible citizenship. Through the curricular work and the challenges on the activity day, they gain knowledge and understanding of the issues facing less developed countries, and in so doing can develop the values and skills which form the essence of global citizenship.

As an additional feature, some schools have taken forward fundraising for less developed countries. In so doing, not only are they actively engaging in the school and community life, but they have also realised that they can make a difference in global issues, bringing the idea of global citizenship to life.

"Global citizenship enables young people to actively participate in an increasingly global society. It involves gaining knowledge and understanding of global issues, developing values relating to social justice and self awareness and developing the skills needed to make informed judgements."

(Education for citizenship – citizenship themes)