STEM at Alderley – Making Brush Monsters

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As part of Alderley’s commitment to ‘2018: The Year of Engineering’, four of our Wickwar engineers have recently spent a day at The British School, a primary institution in the nearby town of Wotton-Under-Edge, to help 28 Year 4 children make ‘brush monsters’ – and to understand the engineering principles behind them.

Between themselves, the four volunteer engineers and official Alderley STEM ambassadors covered the entire breadth of Alderley engineering expertise: Richard Campbell and Richard Winter-Alsop both work as Mechanical Engineers, while Christopher Daniels is a Process Engineer, and Matt Cottrell supports operations as a Controls Engineer.

The brush monsters were comprised of a small IKEA hand brush, an electric motor, a battery, a switch and connecting wiring. The brush monster class pack was kindly provided by STEM educator Caroline Alliston, author of the Technology for Fun series of books and teacher resources. Beyond having lots of fun making the brush monsters, the 5-hour-long activity also enabled the children to learn about the basics of electrical circuits, health and safety, manufacturing principles and teamwork.

The day was kicked off with an introductory presentation from the Alderley team on the basics of who engineers are and what they do. The class then broke up into different groups, and each Alderley STEM ambassador took pairs of children through the steps of making their own monsters. After some trial, error and engineering patience, all the children emerged with fully functional brush monsters.

To ensure that the children consolidated all they had learned in the presentation and brush monster assembly, each group was also required to work through an engineering worksheet. Here the children had to demonstrate what they had learned about electrical circuits, batteries, the dynamics of the monsters and health & safety. This theoretical aspect constitutes a vital part in ensuring that the day is an educational introduction to engineering as well as being a fun activity day.

Before lunch, the class channelled all their creativity to decorate the monsters: Feathers, plastic eyes, foam, paper cut outs and glitter were applied to the formerly simple hand brushes, demonstrating both spontaneous design and planned construction. After lunch, Alderley organised a brush monster racing event in the school hall. This competition let the children test their designs against their peers, and generated some of the competitive spirit that all engineers need. All of the children enthusiastically raced their monsters in a series of closely contended heats. The fastest two monsters from the heats then headed off in a nail biting final. In the end, the Flying Dragon claimed victory, racing down the track at a velocity of 0.7 kilometres per hour.

Beyond being a fun day for the 8-year-olds, the activity also successfully engaged the children in the principles underpinning the engineering behind Alderley’s field of work.  Events like this are crucial in ensuring that children from all walks of life perceive an engineering career as a viable path for them. Over the coming months, the Alderley STEM programme hopes to engage many more children in a variety of educational engineering activities.

The children’s teacher, Bev Smith, summed up the impact that the day had on the kids:

“Thanks so much to all of you for a completely super workshop! The children have got so much out of the day and have had lots of fun, too. I feel confident that their understanding of circuits has grown, and hopefully some will have been inspired to consider an engineering career in the future?! They were keen to tell their parents all about their brush monsters as they were picked up after school. Hugely successful!”

With the school having expressed an interest in holding similar workshops in the future, we are sure to be back soon with more fun and educational activities to showcase the fascinating world of engineering to inspire the next generation.