STEMNET Kent Festival of Science Summer Masterclass at St. Anselm's Catholic School, Canterbury

Recently, I became a STEMNET ambassador for the Kent and Medway area. My first activity as an ambassador was to help run the Kent festival of science summer masterclass with John Coad. The event was held at St. Anselm's Catholic School, in Canterbury, for the week beginning 29th July. About 30 children (aged 7-12) attended for a week of science experiments and missions - no homework or tests just non-stop fun.

Day 1 - Engineering and Biology

The week started with some engineering tasks, everyone was provided with a couple of marshmallows and some dry spaghetti sticks and were asked to construct the tallest tower. Each tower had to include some horizontal bits of spaghetti, some vertical and some diagonal. This proved a very tricky and very sticky task.

Following this the kids were given the option of constructing a house big enough to hold five people, using the stix machine, or construct some unique machines using K'NEX. The stix machine takes newspaper, which on its own proves to be a poor building material, and it rolls the paper into incredible condensed and strong tubes which can be used for building. The best K'NEX creation by far was a warship.

The afternoon's activities turned to biology, the first task was to extract DNA from strawberries. Once the DNA had been extracted, the children placed them in small pots ready to take home as a souvenir. The final task was to prepare a jelly mixture and place a variety of different fruits into the mixture. These were then left to set overnight.

Day 2 - Mission Impossible

The following morning we noticed that some jellies had set, and some were still very runny. The reason some had not set was due to enzymes; in fruits like kiwi and fresh pineapple there is an enzyme which destroys the jelly and prevents it from setting. However, in fruits like tinned pineapple and bananas this enzyme is not present, allowing the jelly to set.

The rest of day 2 was 'mission impossible day'. A number of scientific tasks had to be completed in order to save the world from nuclear destruction. Throughout the day we were in contact with special agents that guided us through the process, and gave us our missions. The tasks ranged from building electrical circuits to designing a device that would successfully identify a magnetic field.

Day 3 - Rockets, The Incredible Machine and Water

Luckily the children attending were smart enough to save the world allowing us to continue on day 3 with shooting rockets into the sky. Rockets of all different sizes were made and decorated, and some rockets were designed with wheels so they were projected along the ground. Once created we had lots of fun firing them into the air and along the ground and competing to see who could fire theirs the furthest.

Also during the morning the children grouped together to design an incredible machine. If you have ever played the game mousetrap this is a much larger scale version. There were lots of tools and objects around the room and each team had to make their device that would link to the next team and create a knock on effect around the room. When it reached the end of the machine the idea is that something spectacular happens. People who have tried this previously were able to get their machine to turn on a tap at the end, but the groups this year were not quite as successful, but we still had fun.

In the afternoon we worked with water, and more specifically water filtration. There was a big bucket of muddy water and the aim was to use lots of tools together like sand, gravel, coffee filters, cotton wool, so that when the muddy water entered the filtration device clean water would come out the bottom. This proved to be a very messy task, and the first attempts were not very successful. But after a couple of tips from John some great filters were made to produce some very clean looking water.

Day 4: The Dogs of Barkingham and Alternative Energy

The day started with lots of paper plates covered in dog poo...yes that's right, gross! Between you and me the poo was really angel delight coloured brown. The task for today was to work out why the dogs of Barkingham were ill, and we got to use all sorts of things (including poo) to work out the reason. There was video footage from the residents of Barkingham that gave some helpful, and some not so helpful suggestions as to why the dogs were unwell.

Luckily the afternoon was not quite so smelly, as we learnt about alternative energy. Usually cars require petrol or diesel in order to run, but using some solar panels the children worked in small groups to design all sorts of different vehicles to run using the sun's energy. The cars were inventive and fantastic so we decided to have a race in the school's playground to see which vehicle would cross the finish line first. The winner was Marcus (who you may recognise from the PHYSICS FUNdamentals science at home videos) and his group.

Day 5: Electricity and Presentation to Parents

Today was the last day, and we decided to make the final few experiments a bit different. Today we worked on electricity, we had a pile of lemons, limes and potatoes, some cables and a current meter. Everyone formed small groups and used the fruit and veg to make circuits, measuring how much current they could generate. Gradually the groups merged into two super groups with loads of fruit and veg and both groups were able to power small LEDs and the sound cards (the ones you get in birthday cards). The second and final experiment was to build circuits using the Cambridge Brainbox kits to make parts spin and light up.

All week the children had been picking out their favourite experiments, and learning some quick science demonstrations to perform at the presentation afternoon to their parents. Everyone had something to show and the presentation was brilliant, all of the kids were really enthusiastic and keen to show off. It was a fantastic week, and it was inspirational to see how much everyone enjoyed learning and solving the puzzles throughout the week.

#stemnet #sciencemasterclass #summerschool #engineering #science #technology #maths

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