STEM Challenge - the form of solar energy which will blow you away

Published: 30 November 2020

The team organised a "hands-on" remotely delivered, STEM renewable energy challenge: "The forms of solar energy which will blow you away!". It was presented at the FoSS and delivered in 4 different schools in collaboration with probationer and in-service teachers.

Gabriella Rodolico provided an update on the event -

This project had a focus on sustainability but in a no conventional manner. It was aimed to raise awareness of Sustainability and STEM by promoting the Social Sciences studies in Primary and Secondary schools through a hands-on remotely delivered STEM challenge which developed the pupil’s curiosity and higher order thinking around the issues of Sustainability.

My team and I put together the practical and theory in one blended Problem Based Learning activity which was delivered in schools, at home and in twilight sessions with University (with myself), creating a triangulated approach with the student in the middle.

This project  is not based on finding a solution to the issue of sustainability, but our main point is to target our young adults’ minds and contribute to develop a generation of active thinkers who know the problem, who know how to think about solutions  and who  know how to work collaboratively to come to a common final action.

The project started at the end of March 2020 and at beginning of the first lock down when I decided to organise a “Science is fun” rubric with the PGDE primary student teachers 2019-20.

The rubric had renewable energy as the main topic and wind energy was the focus given its importance in the Scottish context. It was a great success and students mentioned:

Some of student teachers’ feedback

I have really enjoyed the science is fun rubric, it has been a great way to chat discuss and share science and teaching ideas with others, which is only a benefit when starting in my teaching career. It has also been a nice and good way to keep in touch with people from University and to stimulate the mind with the tasks being set for us, so thank you.

- being able to involve my children has been fantastic as it had given our projects a genuine purpose - they boys know they are presenting their project to the class! It has inspired my boys to investigate more science and ask questions about why things happen.


This made me think a little bigger so, supported by the College Strategic Research Fund awarded to me in the academic year 2019-2020, I had the chance to engage in several professional conversation with Academic and non-academic professionals with the scope to discuss in details what STEM could mean especially in Education.

This allowed me to organise my team:

  • Mr Roberto Rodolico
  • Mr Michael Kilpatrick Civil Engineer Godson
  • Professor Iain Alasdair MacLeod, Structural Engineering, Institute of Engineers and shipbuilders in Scotland
  • Mrs Lorna Bennet Mechanical Engineer at Orecatapult
  • Dr Daniela Castro Camillo Lecturer in Statistics, School of Mathematics and Statistics at University of Glasgow
  • Mrs Deborah Simpson (PGDE student teacher 2019-20)
  • Mr Geoffrey Barret (PGDE student teacher 2019-20)

And some extra support from In-Service teachers

  • Mrs Louise White
  • Mrs Lorna MacKenzie
  • Mrs Maureen Scott

I engaged in several conversation with Bill White IAA Officer, and I decided to apply for the Festival of Social Science which would financially support and create the right network for the dissemination of my team ideas and plans. We decided to work on 5 key aspects promoting a STEM renewable energy activity in schools through hands-on work which could include the main processes of

Session 1: Understanding and Designing for sustainability

Session 2: Understanding and Communicating for sustainability

Session 3: Understanding and Modelling for sustainability

Session 4: PBL and Thinking solutions for sustainability

Session 5: Understanding Mathematical models to support sustainability

It was all carried out under the overarching theme of parental engagement and collaborative learning.

The renewable energy powered house prototype was built by me and Mr Roberto Rodolico as shown in this video

With the team we agreed to select 4 schools: 3 mainstream Primary Schools (mainly those where the PGDE Primary student teachers were completing their probationer year)  and 1 Special Education Secondary School.

Session 1: Design your own sustainable house. Michael Kilpatrick, Civil Engineer Associate Goodson and Gabriella Rodolico, Lecturer in Science Education UoG, taught how to design and build a sustainable house applying the Engineering designing process to environmental factors and sustainability. Pupils from each school selected their own recyclable material and built a model of sustainable house.

Session 2: Pupils had a week to continue to work on their houses in school and at home. Then they presented in class with their teachers (part of our team) their models by justifying the choice of their design and material. After completing this step, pupils received a pack containing all the necessary resources to build their own wind turbine to power their model of house. The pack was brought back home to involve their parents/carer in the project.

Session 3: Pupils and parents/carers took part in several twilight sessions, one for each school organised by Gabriella Rodolico Lecturer in Science Education, UoG and Lorna Bennet Mechanical Engineer, Catapult to build their own wind turbine and connect it to their model of sustainable house to power an LED bulb inside the house. The model also contains enough material to connect the wind turbine to a rechargeable battery showing how the wind energy can be stored in chemical energy. Only one school could not carry out this part at home and the twilight happened during school time with a flexibility which guaranteed equity.

Session 4: Pupils brought back to school their model of sustainable house powered by the wind. Dr. Daniela Castro-Camilo Lecturer in Statistics, School of Mathematics and Statistics at UoG explained in a recorded lesson how statistics can be applied to make predictions around wind power and efficiency of wind turbines. Teachers of each school used this resource to plan a lesson on statistics tailored around the needs and ability of their students.

Session 5:   Professor Iain MacLeod of the Institution of Engineers in Scotland,  asked pupils (in a recorded lesson) to look at their project from the problem solving prospective, challenging their minds on complex issues related to wind energy, with the aim to get them thinking about big questions such as: Why wind power is not yet our main source of energy?

Ultimately some pupils have been enjoying this topic and practical so much that they decided to take on board the challenge to teach other pupils in their own school, personalising the provide resources and showing a strong young leadership.

In-Service Teachers’ feedback Main stream:

“It has allowed opportunities for learners to brainstorm and discuss in class and in groups how we can get our energy and the subsequent need to use renewable energy and prioritise sustainable building/ houses. This project has emphasised the contribution that the social sciences make to our society and economy”.

“Through this project, pupils have had the opportunity to work on their own, in pairs, in groups and with their families. They really responded well to research, discussions and in following the design brief to create and modify their own sustainable home. As most pupils were not part of the home learning zoom meeting, pupils were then taught in class about circuits where they had the opportunity to make simple, parallel and series circuits involving lights, buzzer and a motor with a wind turbine. Pupils were very engaged through this exploration and could then work in larger groups to make a wind powered car. We aim to incorporate elements of this project into our planning for P7 next year”

In-Service Teachers’ feedback Special Education:

‘My group consisted of S5/6 pupils studying SQA individual units; the Fragile Earth unit of National 3 Science and National 2 Practical Experiments. The relevance of the STEM Renewable Energy Challenge to their learning was apparent, but equally important was the focus on the pupils’ relationships with each other. In addition, the opportunity for the young people to collaborate with Glasgow University enhanced their experience.

The learners in an ASN school are like learners in any classroom, and all have different needs. There were a number of challenges to resolve to ensure there were no barriers that would hinder the young people being successful. Making small changes to the learning and teaching made certain that the pupils were supported throughout the project.

Connectivity and wellbeing have become key concerns during the current Covid-19 situation in schools and, arguably, more so in ASN schools. Being part of this project highlighted the importance of digital inclusion. However, although the pupils were unable to connect with a home learning zoom meeting, Dr Rodolico delivered a live lesson in school.

Everyone had the opportunity to achieve. Without doubt, the best evaluation came from the pupil who left school that night with a ‘carry-out’ pack of equipment curious to develop and extend his learning.’

Probationer Teacher A (PGDE Primary student teacher 2019-20)

This project truly allowed the students to shine in relation to a topic that is important globally. This was seen no more evidently during the twilight session, which provided a platform for those pupils who normally would be reluctant to answer questions in class. Further to this these same pupils have grown in confidence and participate much more fully and readily now in other subjects areas in class since having taken part in this project.

Secondly, the project during strange circumstances at the moment allowed for the vital link with parents and guardians to take place and encourage family learning as part of the larger learning community that pupils and their schools are part of, as well as, an important one to help support and guide the current generation and others to follow to strive to reach their full potential now and in the future.

Finally, this project not only allowed pupils to develop their learning on the social science matter of sustainability, but also in other areas within the curriculum such as technology, maths and literacy. Hence making this project truly IDL in nature.

Parent A feedback

“From a parental engagement perspective, I would say that the project was a positive experience. I won’t lie to you, when the letter first came out my heart sank…… although I was only helping her gather materials to begin with, it gave us something to work together on, even including a nice walk round the park together to collect leaves”.

“All in all, I would say we’ve both learned from the project (or relearned in some cases for me) and it was a good opportunity for us to be able to take part as a family. I know there will have been a significant amount of work from your side to make it happen, so thanks for doing that and creating something that the parents could participate in too”.

Parent B feedback

Having taken part in this project, I think my 6yr old girl thoroughly enjoyed the making of the house and helping to wire up the wind turbine. She defiantly enjoyed loading up the house with her teddies to live in with a fully working light and LOVED showing everyone how the hair dryer makes the wind turbine turn the light on!! I think she understood the underlying messages behind this, though struggled to recall some of this information the next day. What really stood out for me was her overall engagement in the project and what surprised me was just how many different topics were really covered. What a fantastic summer project this would make and how I wish we had this during lock down! While I couldn’t participate in the live sessions due to work commitments, I think there was a lot of value and learning gained by both my daughter  and myself and gave us some great quality time together while discussing some real world issues in a child friendly way. Thank you, Gabriella, this was really fun and I loved your own enthusiasm and passion that gave me an extra push when I started to scratch my own head!

Prof Iain MacLeod feedback

Gabriella has shown immense enthusiasm and ability in developing and delivering this project.  It represents a very important direction that is needed in education - to get young people to engage with real world problems.  A lot of work is being done by teachers in this direction but Gabriella's STEM Challenge is one of the best examples that I have encountered. She must be given support to continue to develop such learning.

Bill White IAA officer feedback

The sessions had an obvious impact on the pupils as displayed in the photographs and from the feedback that I heard from the teachers and parents and pupils during the final review.

I have seen the practical side of the project develop over the course of a few months and have been impressed at the time and boundless energy Gabriella has put in to creating this informative and fun session for the pupils to learn about the basics of sustainability and wind power. My own 6 year old granddaughter had a go at the project and was telling me all about the way the wind lights her house. Catch them while they are young.

Gabriella’s Feedback

During the all process I came across several professionals who have showed me all their enthusiasm and knowledge, but most of all I have been impressed by the resilience and creativity of our young adults. The project achieved outcomes that I was not expecting. Do not get me wrong there were times during the twilights for example or when I had 150 packs to put together in my living room, that I thought “this is really interesting…!”, but it worth every single minute of my time.

The University of Glasgow has the motto “World Changers” and I believe that if my TEAM and I have made a difference even in one of these children we have really changed the world.

First published: 30 November 2020