Blogs tagged as STEM

  • Looking for activities for Gifted and Talented pupils?

    October 11th, 2013

    If so, there are a lot of Gifted and Talended co-ordinators who would say you should try our STEM challenges.

    Yesterday my colleague Bren and I exhibited at the Optimus Education Gifted and Talented conference at the Oval in London #gifted13.  This was a new experience for us so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

    Optimus Gifted and Talented conference 2013

    We were delighted that so many of the 300 teachers who attended came along to our stand to find out what we had to offer…and how  impressed they were with what they found:-)  They recognised that our challenges enable pupils to really stretch themselves and demonstrate what they are capable of in a global context that is likely to be new to them.

    Some teachers had already heard of our work through the grapevine.
    One teacher said I heard someone say they had done tPractical Action at the Optimus Gifted and Talented conference 2013 he squashed tomato challenge and it was phenomenal!’  Others came across us for the first time.  This included one teacher who like us had travelled down from Rugby!  Our Beat the Flood challenge and competition was a real hit, with teachers liking the hands on, enquiry aspect of the challenge as well as the idea of potentially winning £250 for their school. We are looking forward to seeing those competition entries come flooding in (groan!).

    One thing we both noticed was how at this conference many teachers were not just thinking about working with small groups of pupils but how they could use our challenges for a whole year group; as the basis for a transition day, or as a  whole school activity.   One teacher said to me:

    ‘ Beat the Flood  will be perfect for a whole school activity day we are having in three weeks time.  I can’t thank you enough…  you have just saved me sooooooo much work!

    As always teachers were impressed with the quality of material we produced, and amazed that it is freely available.  In turn we were impressed with the enthusiasm and passion shown by  teachers to improve the experiences of pupils in their schools.

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  • Technophobe gets to grips with webinar

    My friends and work colleagues would tell you that I ‘m just not that good with technology.  I got a new phone recently and when I posted the photo to the right on my facebook account (which I have to say I am proud that I know how to do!) the comments would confirm that.

    Julie Brown and technology

    Me and technology

    So when I was asked by Think Global to present a webinar for them on ‘Integrating global learning into STEM’ I must admit my initial reaction was – what me? Really? As well as being flattered to be asked of course. The very lovely (and I have to say much younger, which i am convinced must have something to do with her less technophobic nature) Amy West convinced me it would all be fine so I took a deep breath and went for it!

    I have to admit it was not as difficult as I originally thought to set up, although that may have been because Amy did most of the work!  When the day finally came I just took a deep breath, followed instructions and off we went.  To my delight it all worked well.  In fact, more than that I got a real buzz from being part of something new. OK, so the sound quality wasn’t brilliant, but it worked and enabled me to talk to teachers I wouldn’t normally have been able to reach.  Something my friends and family will also tell you is I just love talking about Practical Action and our education work so anything that gives me a platform to do that is good by me.

    It didn’t end there however. After the event there was another technology challenge…how to share the webinar presentation with others.  There was a lot of info on the presentation I thought others might be interested in and I wanted to share it.  So with the help of colleagues here at Practical Action I learnt how to change a presentation into a YouTube video – how cool is that!

    So, I am feeling really pleased with myself for trying out new technological things and actually getting to grips with them.  Hope you enjoy the resulting video below.

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  • A new challenge!

    If you are a teacher and have used any of our STEM challenges before we are sure you will love  our new one……The Floating Garden Challenge  designed for ages 7-19.

    Give your students a global problem and ask them to solve it.

    The problem: In Bangladesh land is frequently flooded as a result of climate change, ruining crops grown for food.  The result is that families go hungry

    The Challenge: To design and make a model solution to the problem that will enable farmers to grow crops even when the land is flooded.

    Students  test their models to see which one holds the most weight when floated in water then look at how Practical Action has worked with communities in Bangladesh to build floating gardens out of local, sustainable material…. an example of technology justice in action.

    Perfect for STEM and science clubs, NSEW,  collapsed curriculum timetable days  as well as for enhancing a lesson on forces.

    Resources to help you deliver the challenge are free and include a PowerPoint, teacher’s notes, student worksheets, certificates and a beautiful  A2 poster which you can request free.  All materials are available in English and Welsh.

    Go to 

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  • We got the GOLD!!

    I know the Olympics are over but last Friday I felt like we had won the gold medal!

    We found out that that we had been successful in securing funding from the EC for a three year project.    Practical Action will be managing the project with partners in Cyprus (CARDET), Poland (CCE) and Italy ( Oxfam Italia) as well as Engineers without Borders ( EWB) and the Centre for Science Education (CSE) in the UK.

    Our project Technology challenging poverty: Make the link  will focus around integrating issues around technology justice into  science and design and technology education.

    Students at both primary and secondary school will ‘make the link’ between:

    • science and technology and global poverty reduction
    • their own behaviour and the impact on the developing world

    We are really exciting about what we will be able to achieve with this funding.  It will enable us to not only produce a fantastic new range of support material for teachers  but also include teacher training and a real opportunity to shape the policy and practice of science and D & T teaching within a large number of schools throughout Europe.

    Watch this space!!


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  • Smiles all round at the Big Bang fair

    It was smiles all round at the London regional Big Bang fair yesterday.  Students from Ursuline Academy had spent 6 weeks working hard on two separate projects that they entered into competitions taking place as part of the fair.  Both projects had been inspired by Practical Action’s Global CREST challenges, materials launched last year.

    The school won one of the four main prizes, the CREST award for creativity, and both projects were selected to go forward to the National finals in London next March.

    Ortis Deley, a passionate supporter of Practical Action hosted the award ceremony.  He was thrilled with Practical Action’s involvement in the event, saying how important it was to inspire young people to get engaged with issues affecting the developing world.

    The project by The Sustainables focused on developing materials to use in construction of housing in Bangladesh, using recycled materials and natural resources.  The Science Angels project looked at providing a solution to food shortages in Kenya by combining  techniques including  rainwater harvesting and  a special gel to grow seeds  with using Polysolar glass in the construction of a new building they named an  ‘Agriihouse’.

    Rose Russell, the students’ Design and Technology teacher, said the students had benefited hugely by being involved in the project and that practical projects like this were a really effective way of engaging young people with  issues around development.  She also went on to say how the experience has helped the students to develop important skills such as team work and time management as well as improving their confidence.

    13 year old student Floridine Fidegnon-Edon said the project ‘has made me more determined to raise awareness (of people in developing countries) and focus on creating solutions’.  When asked what she had learnt during the project she said ‘more electrical information than I thought possible’!!

    The students used Practical Action’s technical briefs for information as part of their research for their projects.  Jeremy buckle, the Big Bang event director, said that many students he met showed a real interest in doing projects of this type, but until now he was unaware that there was material to support them.  He particularly liked the inclusion of the technical briefs as support material and now that he is aware of them is going to be actively recommending our resources to schools.

    Fingers crossed for the finals in March  🙂

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  • STEM everywhere at the ASE conference

    Arriving at the ASE conference last week, with my umbrella turned inside out by the blustery weather, I expected to meet a lot of great teachers, and I wasn’t disappointed.  What I perhaps didn’t expect was to meet so many other interesting, passionate people in the education sector.  Anyone else notice that there has been a huge increase in the number of people with STEM in their title recently?!  STEM ambassadors, STEMNET, STEM centres, and teachers with responsibility for STEM clubs.

    What was great from our point of view was how the ‘STEM’ people were so impressed with our resources.  It is great to meet new people who haven’t heard of you before and see their interest fire up as you talk about your ‘squashed tomato challenge’ or the ‘Small Is…challenge’.  Equally though it is inspiring to hear others tell you how they have used your material with their students and how they are keen to find out what’s new from Practical Action this year.

    Two of our new resources we were telling people about are the global CREST challenges and our STEM careers material, which includes a free poster.  The CREST challenges have been produced to give students a starting point for projects in international development as part of the British Science Association’s CREST awards and have been really welcomed by science teachers.

    Conferences are very tiring, and by the end we were dead on our feet , but it was really worth it as it confirmed to us that the education work at Practical Action is hugely valued by teachers and others who inspire the next generation.  I am confident that working with others we are having a significant impact on developing global awareness, encouraging engagement with global issues and organisations like ours,  and changing the behaviour of students.

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  • Design and Technology Show 2011


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  • Getting girls motivated by STEM subjects…

    I’m just back from King Edwards VIth School in Birmingham, having given the certificates and prizes for Practical Action’s Small Is…Challenge. Heidi’s design for a water filtration backpack was selected to be the overall secondary Science winner for a new invention that would help us to lead a more sustainable life in the future.

    The head of Chemistry Ms Oldfield was delighted that the school did so well in the challenge

    “We chose to get involved with the challenge to encourage the girls with Science, Technology,Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. They have enjoyed researching the technologies from the past 100 years and enjoyed thinking creatively about technologies that could help us to lead a more sustainable future.”.

    Well done to all involved!  To view the winning entries and others to go to

    Award entrants for Small Is...Challenge

    Small Is... Challenge award winning Heidi

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  • 100 Small things to make a difference

    Our founder Fritz Schumacher believed that even small things could make a big difference to people’s lives.  We think so too, so to celebrate his centenary year we  have designed a poster to get school students thinking about what small things they could do to  make a difference, to their community, their environment and to people in the developing world.

     Ideas include

    •  taking toys to a charity shop so they can be loved all over again  🙂
    • growing your own vegetables and buying locally sourced food
    • refusing to use products that use lots of packaging
    • volunteering to help in your local community
    • repairing your bike when it brakes; and
    • join Practical Action’s energy campaign

    There are 90 ‘things’ on the poster and space left for students to add 10 of their own. Divided into the 6Rs of Reduce, Refuse, Recycle, Rethink, Repair, Reuse this FREE large A1 poster is sure to be popular with teachers and students.

     Please do  take a closer look at the poster and if you would like to request your own copy just email use at

    Why not  try some of our small ideas yourself ?

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  • Making aerial ropeways at INTECH science centre

    May 6th, 2011

    STEM squashed tomato challengeToday was a real treat for me.  I got to see lots of groups of 12 to 13 year old students taking part in the Squashed Tomato Challenge, a challenge inspired by my visit to Nepal a year ago.  The students were doing the challenge as part of a day organised by the education team at INTECH in Winchester.  They had been told about the problem faced by farmers in Nepal, that of transporting tomatoes down a mountainside and were designing model systems that could help solve the problem.

    As Robin Barclay, one of their teachers said to me ‘the students are really getting involved, it’s great to see them working together and coming up with solutions.  It brings in the sustainability angle as well which is so important now in everything we teach.’

    Their designs were measured on how many tomatoes they could transport in two minutes, reliability of the system and ease of operation.  Points were deducted for dropped and squashed tomatoes and any human ‘intervention’ that took place to make the system work.

    Mrs Webb, the students’ science teacher thought the activity was ‘fantastic’ because it showed them how they could relate what they learnt to a real life situation.  She told me how they had completed a unit on forces recently but until now didn’t see how that could be applied.

    As for the students when I asked an excited Vienna Dale how her team got on she said ‘We did amazing, we moved about 20 tomatoes and only squashed two.  It was hard though having to think of a design that would work and get the tomatoes down in quite a short time’

    Students working hard but enjoying themselves and finding out about technology used by Practical Action ….that has to be a good thing if you ask me!!


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