Julie Brown


Julie Brown is head of Practical Action's education team in the UK, which produces teaching resources for teachers of Science and Design & Technology.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org/schools

Posts by Julie

  • A new STEM challenge – Stop the Spread

    April 21st, 2017

    Stop the Spread STEM poster Practical Action Having a new STEM challenge to promote is always such a great feeling!

    STEM challenges are our most popular materials. Teachers tell us time and time again how they love them not just because they inspire their pupils, but because the support materials are so comprehensive their prep time is reduced to a minimum 🙂

    Stop the Spread is our brand new STEM challenge for 7-16 years. Highlighting the global issue of infectious diseases pupils design, build and test a model of a hand washing device and produce educational materials for children in Kenya to encourage hand washing.

    Free materials to support the delivery of the challenge include teacher guidelines, a student pack, PowerPoint, certificates and a poster.

    Stop the Spread is accredited for the British Science Association CREST Discovery Award and can used to enter the Youth Grand Challenges competitions. It has strong links to the Global Goals for sustainable development.

    Perfect for British Science Week #BSW2017, STEM and science clubs, transition and off-timetable days as well as embedding into the school curriculum.

    Elaine Manton, STEM Co-ordinator from Loreto Grammar School said

    ‘We have just incorporated Stop the Spread into our  KS3 curriculum and are not only using it for our Year 8 assessment but also for our Student Leaders Awards.”

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  • STEM careers in International Development

    March 15th, 2017

    STEM careers poster Practical ActionDo you have students who are interested in the big global challenges we are facing? Do they  want to help find the solution to climate change and having enough food for everyone on the planet? If so a career in International Development could be for them.

    My STEM(Science, Technology , engineering and Maths) job at  Practical Action,  is to produce education materials to help students discover how STEM can be used to reduce poverty around the world. Other people I work with have great jobs such as helping people get access to electricity, sharing information about the best materials to use to make a house flood-proof, working with communities to install solar powered water pumps, helping farmers breed salt-resistant crops… they are the scientists and engineers. Then there are people who do jobs you might not think of that are really important to the backbone of our organisation , like working in finance. They also get to travel around the world and see the great work our organisation is doing.

    To raise awareness of the great opportunities a STEM career in international development can bring  we have a lovely free poster you can request and a number of case studies free to download at www.practicalaction.org/careers .  They would make a great display 🙂


    STEM careers poster Practical Action

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  • STEM is for Girls – People like me

    Slough, UK, Slough
    February 1st, 2017

    I want to spread the word about a really great initiative from WISE ( Women In Science and Engineering)  which was launched today at CE Technologies in Slough.  Working through volunteers around the country People Like me focuses on helping girls aged 11-14 realise that the aptitude and skills they have are needed for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), careers that girls in particular do not always believe they are suited too.

    Launch of People like me goes digital, WISE

    Launch of People like me goes digital, WISE

    The scale of the problem was highlighted by Helen Wollaston, WISE CEO, who pointed out that only 7% of girls  go onto STEM careers after level 4, compared to 24% of boys*  Jacqueline do Rojas, managing director of UKI, Sage and President, techUK pointed out that often the ‘T’ in STEM got ignored, but in fact ‘every business has a digital heartbeat’ ( I really liked that!) and that Tech jobs are growing at a rate of 10x more than any other sector.

    STEM education pipeline

    The message was clear, for our businesses to be successful we need to make the most of our talent pool, which of course includes girls. According to Prof. Averil Macdonald we will attract girls to apply for jobs in the sector if we can help them firstly realise that they can do it and secondly that they will fit it.  This was backed up by Paul Briault from CA Technologies who reinforced that what businesses need is a culture of recognising that teams work best when they are ‘happy and diverse and play to people’s strengths’. A culture where women will feel comfortable and have the opportunity to thrive.

    At Practical Action we are also aware of the importance of more girls going into STEM, to become the scientists and engineers of the future that can help solve the big global challenges ahead.  We are delighted at feedback from teachers and pupils which tells us that girls in particular love our resources as they highlight the social impact of science and technology.  See the video below which shows 90 girls from 8 schools in Birmingham taking  part in our Beat the Flood STEM challenge.  We are also partners in an EU funded project called Girls Into Global STEM (GIGS), which aims to engage more girls in STEM by getting them involved in creating and taking part in global STEM challenges and developing their digital skills in the process. We are at the beginning of the project but watch this space for more information.

    If you and/or your organisation are interested in finding out more about the campaign and helping WISE reach their target of reaching 200,000 girls in the next two years please go to https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/about-us/wise-projects/people-like-me.  If you are a teacher  and want to find out how to get girls in your school involved click the same link!

    * More details can be found in the report at  https://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/resources/2016/11/from-classroom-to-boardroom-the-stem-pipeline

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  • Our Practical Action schools survey said…

    November 9th, 2016

    A few months ago we asked teachers and educators to take part in an online survey.  We particularly wanted to find out about how they used our schools materials but also a bit about how they found out about us in the first place and if they liked our materials how they promoted them to others.   We did a similar survey in 2012 so were also interested in any changes that had occurred. 383 people took part.

    Infographic Schools survey 2016 Practical Action

    Infographic showing results of Practical Action’s schools survey 2016

    Some  of the more interesting bits from our point of view are summarised in the infographic.

    What we are most proud of…once they know we exist over half of teachers visit our website every 2-3 months, and 93% recommend our resources to others

    What surprised us the most…since 2012 there has not been an increase in the number of teachers and educators who use social media as a tool to gather and share information?

    What has made us think…Over 45% said they found out about us at local events such as Teachmeets where teachers meet to share ideas and good practice. We do a lot of promotion ourselves (social media, newsletters, articles etc.) but clearly teachers and educators are very successful advocates for us.

    What we changed as a result…We estimate the number of pupils we reach, and the targets we set ourselves based on an extrapolation of downloads. This survey enabled us to do that more accurately and we have adjusted our calculations accordingly.

    What was an unexpected outcome of doing the survey?…10% of people who took part in the survey hadn’t heard of us before they did, so just running the survey enabled us to reach more lovely teachers!

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  • Girls into Global STEM – a new Erasmus Plus project

    August 23rd, 2016

    Practical Action STEM challengesI am thrilled to be able to say that having received some EC funding from Erasmus Plus UK we are now able to get started on a new project called ‘ Girls into Global STEM’. The project aims to

    increase the number of young Europeans, especially girls, who choose to take STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)  subjects at school and ultimately go on to careers in STEM. It will take place in UK, Poland, Cyprus and Sweden and the materials form the project will be available to other countries too.

    Ok, so how are we going to do this? Well, from previous experience we know young people especially girls, are motivated by the role STEM can play in improving people’s lives around the world.  So we are going to start by raising awareness of some of the global challenges we all face and then help young people discover for themselves how ‘STEM’ has the potential to provide solutions.

    The project will involve:

    • Young people and their teachers working with us to develop four Global STEM challenges which draw on the need for a certain level of digital literacy and can be used as stand-alone resources by other teachers and pupils
    • A teacher toolkit to include the global STEM challenges and other material which will support teachers including curriculum mapping of the challenges, videos and guidance notes.
    • A teacher training programme which will be both face to face and on-line as well as for pre-service and in-service teachers
    • Academic papers and their delivery at key events to share the project materials and the learning from the project as widely as possible.

    We are really excited about getting started and working with some new partners as well as some partners we worked with on our previous Make the Link project. The project will be led by the University of Hull. As well as ourselves of course the other partners are the University of Boras (Sweden), CCE (Poland) CARDET(Cyprus) and one school in each country, in the UK  this school will be The De Ferrers Academy

    Let the fun/work begin!!   #GIGSPractical Action STEM challenges

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  • Bren Hellier shortlisted for Global Educator of the Year!

    July 14th, 2016

    Bren Hellier, Practical ActionWe are very proud to announce that our very own Bren Hellier, Education Officer for Practical Action was recently shortlisted for Think Global’s  ‘Global Educator of the year’ award. We already know she is amazing but it was great to have this recognised by such a prestigious organisation which works with teachers and young people in the UK to help them develop their understanding of global issues and the action they can take towards a more just and sustainable world.

    Jo Cox, Head of Science at Redmoor Academy who nominated Bren said:

    “Having worked with Bren on a couple of occasions her passion for her work is inspiring and she clearly understands what teachers and pupils want from a resource.  Teachers  who use her material will like me tell you they are both creative and clear, taking pupils on a journey starting with engaging their interest in a global problem then really making them feel that through their own actions now and in the future they could be part of the solution. Her resources have inspired a significant number of my students to take an interest in humanitarian engineering. She is generous, committed and full of vitality and a genuine pleasure to work with – a truly inspirational global teacher!”

    To find out more about Bren’s work and who else was shortlisted please go to  Global Educator of the Year 2016

    To see Bren’s work for yourself please do take a look at her latest fabulous Design for a Better World challenge. Produced to celebrate Practical Action’s 50th Anniversary it includes a competition for pupils aged 11-14.  We are asking pupils for their most innovative designs that could help us achieve the Global Goals and will share 50 of these on our website.

    Bren Hellier, Practical Action at ASE conference

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  • Women in Engineering Beat the Flood!

    University, Birmingham, West Midlands B15, UK, Birmingham
    July 4th, 2016

    Beat the Flood challenge, women in Engineering day8  schools, 90 girls, 15 volunteers from industry; loads of junk modelling material, water and a Practical Action STEM challenge …the perfect combination for a National Women in Engineering and the Build Environment Day event at Birmingham City University. #NWED2016

    The girls had an engineering challenge…to build a model house strong enough to ‘Beat the Flood’. With support from women working in the engineering sector, they had two hours to research the needs of different communities on a fictitious island; test different structures and material, then design and build a model.  The model was then tested outside Millennium Point by standing in water and having water poured on it!

    Based on Practical Action’s work on flood proof housing in Bangladesh the girls found out all sorts of things about engineering, team work and some of the challenges faced by people in Bangladesh that they didn’t realise before.

    ‘Before today I didn’t know engineering could be about helping people in other countries’’

    ’I really like all working together…we didn’t know each other until today’’

    ‘’We had a plan, but then we didn’t have the materials we needed so we had to adjust our design.’’

    ‘That team over there copied our design!’

    ‘That doesn’t work, why we don’t try…’

    ‘I wish we could do more things like this is school’

    ‘How can we make the base more stable?’

    The teachers and mentors were impressed with how well the girls worked together and some of the solutions they came up with. Everyone enjoyed testing the models outside!

    For a set of materials to run this challenge in your school and for other STEM challenges please go to www.practicalaction.org/stem

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  • Inspiring pupils into STEM careers at the Big Bang Fair

    March 21st, 2016

    I was lucky enough to be able to  attend the Big Bang Fair last week . Young people from around the country were really engaged in finding out just what STEM was all about the potential STEM careers that they could go into.

    Tomorrow's Engineers Big Bang Fair 2016

    Pupils at the Tomorrow’s Engineers stand at the Big Bang Fair 2016

    One stand that particularly impressed me was the Tomorrow’s Engineers, where pupils had the opportunity to see how engineers are involved in both disaster risk reduction, and saving lives post disaster.  A career in International Development may not be one that may particularly springs to mind when teachers/pupils think of STEM, but it is a path that many pupils find inspiring. It was great to see this organisation promoting the social side of engineering, which is something we have been told girls find appealing about our own support materials, particularly our STEM challenges.

    It was also good to see so many of the CREST awards projects on display linked to sustainable and global issues such as energy saving devises and flood-proof buildings, and to hear the pupils speak so passionately about their project (even whilst munching crisps!!)

    Well worth a visit so if you didn’t manage to take pupils there this year I would strongly recommend you look at it for 2017…hope to see you there!

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  • Practical Action’s science resources get the thumbs up from Oxfam

    February 8th, 2016

    We were delighted to see what a high profile our schools resources have in the new ‘Science and Global Citizenship guide’ from Oxfam. Written in conjunction with the Association of Science Education (ASE)  the new guide explains the benefits of a global citizenship approach to science and has practical ideas for implementing it in topics such as water, energy , climate change and ecosystems.Capture

    The guide contains reference to 10 of Practical Action’s science resources, some of which were written with the ASE as part of the DFID funded Global Learning programme. Old favourites like Moja Island are in there together with the more recent Global upd8s and Plastics challenge.

    We would like to thank the Oxfam education team and the ASE for putting this together, and including our materials. We believe it is a useful guide for primary and secondary teachers in the UK.

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  • Why is energy important for the Global Goals?

    October 16th, 2015

    That’s one of the questions we want children in the UK to be thinking about and discussing in schools.   Our new teaching resource ‘Energy and the Global Goals’ enables them to do just that; helping them develop an understanding of why energy access is so important in global poverty reduction, something we at Practical Action passionately believe in!energy and the global goals teaching resource

    Comprising of two very hands on, engaging activities suitable for 7-14 year old children our resource is just one of a package of resources entitled ‘ World’s largest lesson’ which helps children understand what the global goals are all about and why they are key to ending world poverty.   The package includes assembly material and videos as well as lessons linked to every Global Goal.

    So why not have a look and see how through your teaching you can get children more engaged in and excited about  this UN initiative.

    Here’s a great video on the global goals below, and you can find lots more on the website.

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