Connect is an Internet of Things digital making project, and it’s easy to assume that coding is the hard part. But if we’ve got Connect’s coding system right – and we don’t yet know if we have, but bear with me – then the most challenging part becomes the mechanism. We’ve known this for some time, but getting the programming system even close to right has been a battle. So we’re only now managing to turn our attention to mechanical engineering.

Most of the time, we don’t have to think too much about how different mechanisms work. Yet simple mechanisms are a basic building block of mechanical engineering, and they’re even written into the national curriculum at key stages 1 and 2. Indeed, our resource page is consistently one of the most popular areas of this website, seeing many thousands of views each year.

Simple mechanisms are surprisingly challenging to explore, however – particularly ones which can be operated using little servo motors. Which is why we’ve started exploring with parts like these, above. Based on the dimensions of lolly sticks, they’re neatly drilled so we can use straightened-out paperclips as pivots and linkages.

These test pieces don’t quite work, but we’re making some adjustments and later in the week we’ll try again. Fingers crossed we can bring you some example mechanisms built using these components, which we’ll then roll into the next Connect course.

Connected, at last

It’s happening. It’s genuinely happening. More than that – it works!

This half-term we’ve been testing out parts of Connect with some willing guinea pigs families at Battle Hill Primary School. There are a lot of hidden technical bits and some really quite shaky code involved in keeping Connect devices talking to each other (I’m allowed to say that, I wrote the code). We couldn’t quite be certain that once it met real people it would, you know, work. But it does.

Designs for an animatronic cat, at a Connect workshop, February 2022In the very first week one family made the dog in the picture above, which wags its tail when it’s happy and sags rather pathetically when sad. In subsequent weeks families have found out how to code more behaviours into their Connected devices, and explored different mechanisms they might use as they think through what their ultimate creations might be. Here’s a family sketching out a design for a cat puppet, and thinking about how it might move.

It’s not all gone smoothly, not least because I contracted covid after the first week and had to isolate for the next two sessions. There are plenty of rough edges for us to smooth off, including literal ones – at one point I spent a happy hour with a stack of microcontroller boards and a nail file.

With some adjustments, we’re pressing ahead with a second pilot at Carville School after half-term, and shortly after that we should have workshops popping up all over the place. Huge thanks to the Battle Hill families for helping us debug the project!

STEM person of the week volunteers wanted

We know that children (and adults) often have a stereotypical view of scientists and people who work in STEM.

Here at NUSTEM, we’ve created a simple resource which allows teachers to address these stereotypes with their students. STEM Person of the Week is a five week teacher-led activity. Each week the teacher ‘introduces’ a new STEM person to their class using postcards or posters. The teacher ask the children to think and talk about the attributes that the person on the poster shows. These attributes are chosen from NUSTEM’s 16 STEM attributes.  This helps the children to identify attributes that they have that they share with someone who works in STEM.


Each set of five postcards is chosen so that they present a range of different careers and education levels, as well as diversity in age, gender and ethnicity.

We want to create two new sets of STEM Person of the week postcards and are looking for volunteers.

Chemistry STEM Person of the Week

The first set will be used with two secondary schools in the North East that are taking part in the project ‘Careers learning in Chemistry’, funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry.  For this set, we’re looking for people who have a career that uses Chemistry in any form.  You don’t have to have ‘chemist’ in your job title.

Climate Action STEM Person of the Week

The second set is being created jointly with our friends at the Great Science Share for Schools.  On the 14th June, primary schools are encouraged to get their pupils sharing science – particularly through science investigations.  The theme for the Great Science Share this year is Climate Action.  For this set we’re looking for people who work in STEM and who’s work is linked to climate action.  It could be people who work in renewable energy technologies or who are working to improve the climate and environment.

If you think that you and your job match either of these, and would like to help showcase STEM careers to children, then please get in touch.

All you have to do is answer some questions about yourself and your job, and share a photograph of you at work.  You don’t have to go into schools.


For more details contact Carol at