GMEC 19 Pupil Challenge Day

Yesterday was the GMEC19 Pupil Challenge Day at Manchester University. This was the culmination of all the engineering tasks that schools have been working on over the past couple of months. Nobody except the event organisers knew what to expect. What were going to be our final challenges? What categories would they fall into? Would we be prepared?

These were the questions going through the minds of our six Year 5 pupils as they travelled on the train to Piccadilly station. Their excitement was palpable – it’s just a shame that we had to leave the rest of the class behind.

Fortunately, at Rode Heath, we make sure that every child has the opportunity to engage with engineering on a regular basis. We not only hold termly whole school Engineering Days and half-term Big Tinkers, but teachers actively plan engineering into their every day curriculum.


On arrival at Manchester University, we were led into the Great Hall where a sea of animated children met our eyes. There were some familiar faces, but many of the participants were new to the process – great news for the development of engineering in the primary sector.

In fact, there were so many schools present, that following an introduction on recycling plastic by Professor Lin Li, half of us trooped to the floor below to await our instructions.

Imagine & Plan

The first task was to design a solution for the problem of air pollution. It was amazing to see the creativity and diversity of ideas emerging.

Rode Heath pupils chose to go down the safety route, with a Fitbit type watch which alerted its wearer, via Bluetooth, when the risk of air pollution was high. As well as the band vibrating, the product included a badge which changed from green to amber to red, depending on the level of air pollution in the area. Once alerted, the person could then put on a face mask to protect themselves from the fumes. The badge was designed to warn other people of the dangers.

They chose a very apt name – Air Alert – which they changed to Awair Alert (deliberately misspelled) to fit in with their presentation.

Considering the children only had 30 minutes to come up with an idea; sketch and label their concept and create a presentation, there were some magnificent contributions in the room, including our own Rode Heath offering which you can see below:

Create & Improve

We knew this would have something to do with plastic, as we had been asked to bring a bag full; however the theme of the creation was only revealed in the afternoon – build a product to help young people in school feel less lonely.

This was something that we had been looking at in our small Year 5 group and had thought about creating an App, which would give helpful hints to children experiencing loneliness. Indeed, intrepid Isaac had even developed some prototype screens using Scratch.

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Unfortunately, this didn’t particularly help with ideas for the plastic challenge and it took a number of suggestions from making homes to attract hedgehogs into the garden to manufacturing bird feeders or plant bottle gardens, before a robot pet was finally settled upon.

Once a design had been formulated, the children set about collecting suitable components for the build. Everyone had responded very enthusiastically to the call for recycled plastic and there was a veritable mountain to choose from. In addition, the University had provided various electronic equipment, including light bulbs, batteries, motors and wires – and fixing materials, all of which the Year 5s made good use of.

Time was very short and it was touch and go as to whether we would even finish. There was certainly a great deal of trouble trying to fix all the electronics onto the bottle – the masking tape was definitely not very cooperative. We probably should have opted for the glue gun. Anyway, after a massive final push, which involved white tack, elastic bands and a good deal of perseverance – the robot pet was born:

There were some amazing and innovative ideas throughout the room. It was wonderful to see children so animated and creative. I hope that schools around the country have a go at these challenges too. I can’t wait to see children’s work uploaded onto social media. Who knows what might be invented?

If you haven’t already done so, visit the GMEC19 website and download the Challenge resources:

Make sure your school doesn’t miss out on this exciting opportunity!



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