Tag Archive for: engineering

More puppets!

We’ve been delighted to welcome more puppets to the Connect network this term, with workshops running in several schools. Our pace of delivery is picking up now, with our colleagues at the Life Science Centre slotting loads of sessions in for the new year. If your school (or library, community centre, or other venue) is interested in hosting a series of workshops, please do get in touch: email us at jonathan.sanderson@northumbria.ac.uk. Also watch this space, we’ll post details as soon as we have them.

Unleash the lion! (and octopus, cat, robot, …)

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I’ve been a bit slow with the updates here, partly because we were busy finishing up our pilot workshop courses. We learned a lot from them, and families made some joyous robot puppets. Big thanks to everyone who came along and helped us out by testing all the bits which make Connect work.

We now have some adjustments to make, of course, and if everything goes to plan we’ll be back over half term with our friends at the Life Science Centre.

 

Mechanisms

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!

Maximising impact of STEM outreach

There are many, many organisations that want to increase diversity in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths).  To help coordinate efforts and maximise impact, Engineering UK have recently launched the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code.

The Code is a framework for organisations to help them to improve the quality, exclusivity, targeting and reach of engineering and STEM outreach activities. Engineering UK is asking organisations to sign up as signatories of the code.

The Code has four pledges:

  • Ensuring programmes contribute to a sustained and rich STEM journey for all young people.
  • Ensuring all young people have opportunities to engage in engineering-inspiration activities, so that no one is left behind
  • Promoting a positive, compelling and authentic view of engineering, and showcasing the breadth of opportunities
  • Improving the monitoring and evaluation of programmes and activities to develop a shared understanding of what works

At Northumbria University, we’re pleased to be one of the early signatories of the Code.  After all, NUSTEM have been working towards improving diversity in STEM for children and young people for many years now.

We have got a lot of experience in STEM activities, and because we have developed an evidence-based Theory of Change which guides our activities and planning, we’ve created a guidance document to help others organisations gain from our expertise.  We think that the Code, and our recommendations, actually are relevant to all STEM activities, not just engineering ones.

Download your copy of Implementing the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code: An evidence-based, practical guide from NUSTEM

If your organisation is interested in becoming a signatory of the Code, you can find out more about it here.

 

Tales of Engineering – making magnificent things with children and their families …

After a few months of developing our website and getting our engineers to think about their research bookmarks (yes we have awesome bookmarks) we finally started taking our engineers into schools. One of the first visit we did was last wee, to a couple of schools in Darlington.

In the image below you can see Paula (right) and her most magnificent thing as imagined and built by children in a reception class.

Also last week, we took the Tales of Engineering project to this year’s Association For Science Education (ASE) Annual Conference at Reading University. This is one of the largest Science Education Conference of its kind and we were delighted to have engaged with teachers and practitioners, showcasing how storytelling can be used to talk positively about engineering with children in EYFS.

In the meantime we are keeping ourselves busy booking more schools and cultural venues visits, so keep checking our events calendar to see if we are going to be near you!

Tales of Engineering – Bacteria bombs and fashionable pirates

We are back from summer break and ready to engage!

Our valiant Tales of Engineering engineers gathered once again at NUSTEM HQ to learn and reflect about engaging with young children in the classroom. From bacteria bombs to sliding wardrobes, they tried to sell “snake oil” to pirates and fashion models as part of their public engagement training session, delivered by NUSTEM to support this project!

We also had time to start thinking about what materials the children will take home, and we came up with a really cool idea of bookmarks to signpost families and teachers to the resources which are going to feature here.

Stay tuned for our next meeting in November, when we’ll start to co-create Magnificent Things.

Tales of Engineering – Our first meeting

Ready… set … engineer!

Our first meeting for Tales of Engineering took place in July 2019 at Northumbria University, where a small group of engineers were generally terrified with the idea of reading to young children and becoming engineering ambassadors!

We had a good look through a few available engineering story books and decided to go with: The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. We think it has an engaging plot, champions diversity in engineering, and it will be flexible enough so our engineers can work with children on their most magnificent things.

We’ll be back in September for another gathering, where we will find out how best to communicate our ideas to young people.

Tales of Engineering – call for volunteers

Some of our primary books

NUSTEM has been awarded a prestigious Ingenious Public Engagement Award by the Royal Academy of Engineering to support our Tales of Engineering project. The project will connect professional engineers with pre-school children and their families to share their love of Engineering.

In relaxed and friendly activity sessions, engineers and families will read an engineering-related storybook together, then take part in a simple hands-on engineering activity.

As the project gets underway, we are looking for individuals with an engineering background who are keen to develop their public engagement skills, promote their field of work, and contribute to the diversity of the engineering sector.

Volunteer engineers will contribute approximately 10 hours of their time over a period of 10 months. NUSTEM will offer support at every step, providing public engagement training, helping in the choice of a suitable book, co-creating an interactive activity, and supporting the delivery of the reading sessions in local schools and cultural spaces.

If you think you can support this project, please get in touch: email antonio.portas@northumbria.ac.uk. You’re also very welcome to attend our kick-start event: A kick-start event will take place later this month and details can be found in our events calendar.

Tag Archive for: engineering

Make a catapult

Make this simple catapult to fire paper balls, mini marshmallows or pom poms using just some lolly sticks and elastic bands.

Marble run

Have you ever tried to make your own marble run? Using just cardboard, tape, a flat surface and a marble, you can be as imaginative and creative as you want!

Robot Coding

Learn how to use a simple code to control a robot by playing our game. Grab some scissors, a felt tip pen and our game print outs and you are ready to go.

Mini Mangonel

A simple design for an elastic band-powered catapult, which can be used as the starting point for tinkering experiments.

Building Bridges

Could you build a bridge strong enough for one of your cars or toys to cross? Use materials from around your home or garden to build the strongest bridge possible.

Paper Pillars

During this investigation you will discover which paper shapes can hold the most books on top of them before they collapse. All you need is paper, a ruler, a pencil and some sticky tape and you are ready to start.

Balancing

Using “Room on a Broom” by Julia Donaldson as inspiration, this activity uses a coat hanger, string, containers such as yogurt pots and some of your small toys to investigate how we can get objects to balance on a beam.