Jessica Watkins is the Open Innovation Manager at Tesco Labs – Tesco’s research and development team. She is passionate about supporting women in technology, increasing awareness of the importance of STEM subjects in schools, any new tech developments that will genuinely solve a problem and showing the world that you don’t need to be a coder to work in technology. Find out more about Tesco Labs’ work at tescolabs.com, follow them @tescolabs and follow Jessica @jesswatkins.
Tesco Labs is Tesco’s research and development team. Based at our Welwyn Garden City campus, the Labs team was conceived to shine light on future opportunities and challenges for the company. Labs is a trusted source on emerging technology and is focused on prototyping and testing new ideas in technology areas that could significantly impact customers and the business in the future.
Equality in STEM
Our work focuses on the future, and a key part of this is the emerging workforce. It’s well known in technology that there are far fewer women choosing career paths related to STEM subjects, and we wondered what we could do to demonstrate to school-age children the importance of gender equality in our industry.
We began by researching how children form gender stereotypes around career roles, and were surprised to learn that this can be internalised at as young as four years old. With this in mind, we wanted to reach out to children in primary schools, and so started to look into ways in which we could develop a suitable activity. This was when we came across Cubetto.
Programming for kids meets retail technology
Using the original tools that come with each Cubetto Playset set (the World Map and Story Book with activities) for inspiration, we worked with the Primo Toys education team and our creative agency, Ape Creative, to develop an activity which utilised the coding aspect of Cubetto, but was based more closely around retail technology. With a range of specially designed accessories, including a play map adapted to show a store layout, a range of shopping lists, and a flatpack mini-trolley, the team were well equipped to bring the activities to life! We organised our first activity day with Roundwood Primary School in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and began to script out what our first session might look like.
We worked with three groups of 30 children, and were delighted with the success of the activity.
Although the children had some basic experience of programming language Scratch, only a handful had used Cubetto before. Following a short introduction to Tesco’s Technology team, and technology in retail, each group was fully engaged in the challenges set, which included creating their mini-trolley, learning how to put together a string of instructions for the robot, and finally completing complex routes around the ‘shop’ to collect pre-determined items. With initial feedback from the children including more than one request to join the team, we’re looking forward to working more with the technology specialists of the future!
Open-source activities for primary school children
Following the success of the activity (we have now involved over 250 children in six months and intend to continue this work), we are delighted to announce that we are open sourcing the activity plan and creative materials used, in order to enable other retailers to reach out to primary school children in the same way. The key focus of this activity is, and continues to be, promoting both retail technology and gender diversity in technology, and we want to assist as many other parties as possible to work with us in achieving this. You can find the details of the materials available on the Tesco Labs website. Happy coding!