By Kayla Voigt, Contributor
It’s not every day some of the fastest race car drivers in the world visit a classroom to talk through probability, aerodynamics, or biology. The McLaren Substitute Teacher series gives students that chance.
“I know a lot of you aren’t at school at the moment,” smiles Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Driver in the first episode. Norris is one of the drivers for McLaren, competing in Grand Prix events around the world. “I’ve arranged for some very smart people at McLaren to teach you a few things we learned at school to help us be better racers.”
COVID-19 shut down schools around the world, turning parents into teachers overnight. “Having kids at home and homeschooling is a monumental challenge,” says Mark Waller, managing director of sales and marketing at McLaren, a British automotive and racing company with some of the fastest drivers in the world.
“Having kids at home and homeschooling is a monumental challenge.”
—Mark Waller, managing director of sales and marketing, McLaren
“[They’re] playing double, triple, even quadruple duty, all while doing their jobs,” agrees Liz Matthews, SVP of global brand at Dell Technologies, which partnered with McLaren to bring the Substitute Teacher series to life. “The idea was born out of, ‘Hey, how can we create something that’s fun and engaging that can be educational?'”
These five-minute lessons, aimed at 11- to 15-year-olds, show the power of science and technology in action. What kid doesn’t dream of becoming a race car driver?
Bringing an Episode to Life
New episodes released weekly start with topics related to the science behind racing. “What’s amazing about F1 is that it’s hugely driven by data and analytics, and it is a precision sport,” says Matthews. “[We partnered with McLaren to teach kids] how information travels, coding, the use of an internal combustion engine—keeping with all the things around analytics, physics, speed, health, and technology that comes together to make F1 happen.”
Once the group decides on a topic, they find the most qualified person on the team to present. In the first three episodes, Head of Race Strategy and Sporting Randy Singh discussed probability; Aerodynamics Departmental Manager Marianne Hinson talked through the physics of speed; and Norris’ trainer Jon Malvern offered health and dietary tips, such as how to balance macronutrients like fat, carbohydrates, and protein for the most energy. Norris himself appears as a narrator for the series.
These topics may seem serious, but each episode is full of laughs, questions, and a behind-the-scenes looks at racing, making them engaging and fun to watch. “They have the best understanding of how to bring it to life,” says Waller. “It’s like a mini-movie. Each expert works on the story they want to tell.”
“They’re an active part of the process,” adds Matthews. “The team at McLaren are such incredible partners, and there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make it all happen.”
With six episodes now released, they lessons have proved to be immensely popular. The first episode alone received two million impressions on social media and over 260,000 views in only a few weeks. Each video ends with a question kids can respond to through social media. Thousands of responses to the “homework” for episode two have come in on the #McLarenSubstituteTeacher hashtag:
Making STEM More Real
The Substitute Teacher Series shows a side of racing normally reserved for teammates and insiders, making science and technology more real for kids. “It gives kids a much more personal sense of how the team is on a day-to-day, human basis,” says Waller. “When you watch motor racing, generally speaking, you only ever see the drivers. There are a lot of personalities, whether that’s the drivers themselves or the team behind the scenes.”
Each episode shows a passion for the sport and the science behind it. “The drivers wouldn’t be where they were if they didn’t have a passion for learning,” says Matthews. “You don’t get to be an F1 driver without an intense curiosity, and that makes them great teachers.”
That passion shines through to make these topics engaging to everyone. “We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in female viewers on McLaren’s YouTube channel because of this content, and that’s incredibly encouraging,” says Matthews, who hopes the McLaren Substitute Teacher program expands Dell’s audience and makes science and technology accessible to everyone.
The Future of Education is Digital
COVID-19 accelerated existing educational trends of embracing online learning. Even before the pandemic, Research and Markets forecasted the online education market to grow to $250 billion by 2025.
“This time has brought to light many opportunities to use online learning and content in different ways for students of all ages,” says Matthews. “Technology plays a huge role in online learning, not only in the classroom but now at home. It’s a window to the world.”
“This time has brought to light many opportunities to use online learning and content in different ways for students of all ages. Technology plays a huge role in online learning, not only in the classroom but now at home.”
—Liz Matthews, SVP of global brand, Dell Technologies
School systems around the globe are adapting to this new way of life—at least for the foreseeable future. “The format is here for a while,” agreed Waller. “My wife’s a teacher, and she’s planning next semester and potentially the first semester of 2021 to be taught remotely.”
While that may seem daunting for families, series like the Substitute Teacher show that with technology, anything is possible. “Things are so much more immediate and accessible,” continues Waller.
Keeping Students on Track
Even when kids return to more formal in-person schooling, the Substitute Teacher series is here to stay. “I think we’ve uncovered an idea and format that has real longevity to it,” says Waller. “We love the partnership with Dell, they push us and stimulate us to do some of our best work. We’re immensely proud of the work but we’re also having great fun doing it.”
McLaren plans on featuring more trackside learning as the racing season begins (fans won’t be able to attend due to the pandemic), showcasing cultural and geographical elements, in addition to the engineering that makes motor racing possible.
“Ultimately, our goal was to use the powers that we have as our companies to create something with a lasting impact,” says Matthews. “I know our logo is on the side of the car, but I think this is a unique partnership in that it goes so much beyond that. [We’re doing] something for the community. And it’s just going to continue to grow.”