In education, STEM is an acronym for the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. STEM combines the four subjects in an applied approach, considering real-world applications, so as to better equip students for their future careers.  The pupils develop the skills, abilities and learning dispositions required for success.

In Y3, the children were Roman Engineers, with the challenge of designing and constructing an aqueduct. Their day started with an introduction to what an aqueduct is and what function they serve.  The children learnt that aqueducts use the force of gravity to move the water downwards. The key is to maintain a steady gradient or slope. If the slope is too steep, the water will splash out and flood the city! If the slope is too shallow the water will not make it into the city, and the residents will experience a drought. The children worked collaboratively in their engineering teams to design their aqueduct on paper. Then, using corrugated card ‘channels’ and rolled card ‘pillars’, the aqueducts were constructed and tested using ping pong balls. Refinements and improvements were made. The next step was to make the channels water-resistant by coating each with bin bags. Finally, each construction was carried to the paddling pool and it was time to bring on the water! Through creative problem-solving and teamwork, the aqueducts were deemed successful and the cities were supplied with water. Following reflection and evaluation, each group made suggestions for how the aqueducts might be improved if only there was more time!

Y4’s STEM challenge was to plan, design and construct a model eco-house.

What is an eco-house? It’s an environmentally-friendly house that’s designed to have as little impact on our planet as possible. 

Why’s that important? Because burning fossil fuels to power and heat our homes is causing climate change. Eco-friendly homes are all about using renewable energy sources, being energy-efficient, and using natural materials.

The children learnt about the elements of an eco-house before studying a wide variety of examples. Then, they worked collaboratively, in teams, to design their own eco-house, with careful consideration of: heating and power generation, food production, water harvesting and filtration, sustainable building materials and effective insulation. Finally, the build! The room erupted with an animated flurry of discussion. How many levels should the house have? How many rooms? Best form of renewable energy? What to grow for food? Excited activity led to a huddle of colourful, creative houses. As each pair perused the other constructions, there was thoughtful reflection and evaluation.

Y5’s STEM challenge was to design, build, test and improve a fan-driven model boat.  Fan boats are a popular means of transportation in marshy or shallow areas where a submerged propeller would be impractical, most notably in the Florida Everglades. In recent years, fan boats have proven indispensable for flood, shallow water and ice rescue operations.

The day started with a reminder of how to construct electrical circuits safely and the forces associated with buoyancy. The aim was to construct the fan boat which travelled the length of the paddling pool in the shortest time. Considerable thought was employed in the designing of boats which would float, be stable and be fast! Concepts including ‘centre of gravity’, ‘streamlined shapes’ and even ‘moment of force’ were discussed before the prototypes were constructed. Limited to two pieces of polystyrene, it was imperative that the designs were reliable before the cutting of resources began.

Eventually, armed with a fleet of fan boats, each class set off for the paddling pools.  Some fan boats sank instantly, some were more ‘graceful’ – but still sank, some spun around in circles and some did traverse the full length of the paddling pool.  Back in the classroom, it was time to rethink and improve. What about two motors and fans? What about using more tape? What about increasing the height of the sides of the boat? We continued with the iterative Engineering Design Process of testing and improving until we simply ran out of time! 

The children were engaged and enthused throughout – and the excitement (and tension) when testing the boats was palpable! Through the activity they developed their science, maths and design skills and a host of key life skills including collaboration, teamwork and problem solving.

Y6’s Mission:  NASA has selected your engineering team to plan a human settlement on Mars.  Your mission is to design a colony that considers both human health and happiness.

First, we discussed what humans need to keep them alive and then considered the known conditions on Mars. We learnt that humans must provide their own oxygen for breathing and the temperature can range from a high of 30℃ degrees to a low of -120℃ in a single day! Y6’s solutions for breathable air ranged from extracting oxygen from the water thought to be under the polar caps on Mars, to planting trees which will generate oxygen as they photosynthesise, to finding a method of producing oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. Growing plants would provide a human food source and the plants would be watered with the water extracted from beneath the poles.

Next, we considered how to combat loneliness and boredom for Mars colonists and how to keep people happy. We determined that some system of rules and forms of entertainment were necessary.  Medical facilities were deemed essential and, also, regular exercise to address the effect of lower gravity on the human body. We also thought about how to produce energy for the colony. Suggestions included solar energy, wind power and biomass. One method of waste disposal suggested was to blast it off into space! Finally, we considered methods of transportation and the importance of recycling and environmental protection. The children carefully planned their colonies, giving considerable thought to a self-sufficient, sustainable society.  Eventually, the practical construction of the model colonies took place.

Afterwards, we considered who should be the first colonists and the skills they would need. Medics, engineers, scientists, programmers and builders were listed; specifically people who are resilient and willing to face formidable challenges. Would you like to be a Mars colonist living in one of our settlements for a year?

The Prep children thoroughly enjoyed all of their projects and showed massive engagement throughout.  They demonstrated scientific thinking and a range of STEM skills: creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication.

Mrs Simmons