Full STEAM ahead: bringing engineering to life

Network Rail STEM Ambassadors

In June, ten intrepid Network Rail volunteers, ranging from IT Apprentice to Transformation Director, put on their STEM t-shirts and ventured into a local primary school to support their STEAM week.

We kicked off the event by running the whole-school assembly and it was lovely to see some familiar faces from when we attended the school last year.  Even more impressive was that some of the children had remembered several facts and figures relating to Network Rail and the railway from the previous year, oh to have a young mind!

The children then returned to their classroom over-excited and looking forward to what the day would bring. First off saw some of the volunteers going into the classroom of Foundation and Year 1. We told the children the Network Rail and Thomas the Tank Engine collaboration story, which went down very well. After all, who doesn’t love Thomas the Tank Engine?

We also had some PPE kit with us, so we dressed the children up as the orange army (always a popular part of the day), and our very own engineer spent time explaining why the teams working on the track use the equipment and the purpose that it served. 

During this time, Mark (or Mr Enright, the Network Rail man as he is now referred to by all the children) had the really difficult task of judging the school’s robot competition. As part of a home learning project, the children had been designing, drawing and building robots that could help the community. We saw climate change robots, health and wellbeing robots, litter collecting robots, and one of our favourites, a pizza-making robot, because who wouldn’t love one of those!

"The volunteers worked with 210 children across the day, and the aspirations for the children to go into some form of engineering or STEAM role almost tripled overnight according to the feedback from the teachers."

Most of the activities then took place in the school hall where the children built K’Nex towers that stood over 50cms tall, held a tennis ball and could sustain an earthquake. I think pretty much all of them were safe and sturdy… some real budding engineers in the making! 

That was followed by the amazing new Ozobots Network Rail has purchased. These went down really well and I’m not sure who enjoyed it most - us, the teachers or the children! The Ozobots intelligently follow a black line, and using some different colour combinations you can code the robots to do certain things, like speed up, spin and slow down. They were doing some amazing routes! To make sure that the younger children didn’t miss out, these little robots travelled around to the different classrooms, where the teachers did some coding of their own, projecting it onto their larger screens.

The next session involved some science experiments to try and clear wet mushy leaves off the line. The school had done a little prep work, so the children conducted some excellent investigations, making some weird and wonderful concoctions, eventually coming up with the right one and clearing the tracks perfectly!

The end of the day saw the favourite event, which is where we help the children build circuits to move a carriage along a track. This is run as a bit of a competition, with the children having to pop PPE on before they can test their carriage on the track, so the noise levels can get deafening at points!  We finish it off with a race from one end of the hall to the other and attempt to raise the roof with the noise. Mission successful I think!

The volunteers worked with 210 children across the day, and the aspirations for the children to go into some form of engineering or STEAM role almost tripled overnight according to the feedback from the teachers.

All in all, it was an amazing day. The children had the best time, the teachers had the best time, but I think the winners were definitely us volunteers who got to generate those smiles through the activities we ran thanks to the Network Rail volunteering policy. I was exhausted but exhilarated by the end of the day, and I think I speak for everyone when I say it was an unforgettable experience and I look forward to doing it again some time!

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