STEM Challenge 1 July 2019

Young Scientist competition for Primary schools

At our Young Writer presentations in 2017 a teacher from Seaford Primary School (who happened to be the School’s Science coordinator) approached us and said “What about running a Young Scientist competition for Primary Schools?”. This caused quite a bit of head scratching in the Youth Services committee. What form could this take? Where would we hold it? Is anyone else doing something similar? We were aware that our Rotary District occasionally ran a Technology Tournament for Secondary Schools – we had entered a team from Seaford Head School on one occasion – but this wasn’t appropriate for what we wanted to achieve. Our District Youth Chairman suggested some possible competitions that had already been set up, but looking into these didn’t take us anywhere.

  Then, in early 2018 we became aware that Seaford Head School (SHS) had a responsibility for liaising with their ‘feeder’ Primary Schools on Science matters, and we made contact with Sara Barnes, who had this liaison role at SHS. At this point we discovered two things. One, that there is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) support team in Sussex, who  organise competitions and other events to assist schools in these disciplines and two, that SHS hold a Science Fair in March each year which Year 6 children from the Primary Schools are invited to attend. But the big breakthrough was in January this year when Sara said that SHS would be happy to put on a ‘STEM Challenge’ for teams from Year 5 of the Primary Schools (aged 9-10).


 We were delighted at the response from the Primary Schools. On Monday 1st July, all four schools in the town were represented with 41 children turning up at Seaford Head School, spread over 10 teams. The task for each team was to build a small four-wheeled ‘racer’ propelled by rubber bands to cover a distance that would be measured at the end of the day. The day started with Sara Barnes introducing the task and explaining to the children what was expected of them and how they would be judged. Each team had a Year 7 student from SHS assigned to them to assist and guide them through the various tasks, and they set about planning how they would build their vehicles. After this they ‘purchased’ the materials they would need from a ‘shop’ (no actual money changed hands!)  and proceeded to design and build their racers. After a break, they then carried out the first testing of their racers (with varying degrees of success!) before taking a well-earned lunch break, after which they carried out final changes to the racers and prepared them for their final test. The teams should be congratulated for the fact that all of the racers moved (not as easy as it sounds!) and achieved distances of between 18cm and 72cm. 

The judging of the teams’ performances was based on a number of factors, not just on how far they travelled. The judges were also looking at the design of the racer, including how it looked, how much they spent on materials and, very importantly, how well they worked as a team. All the children received certificates commending them for what they had achieved and our President Keith Ross presented the winning School, Cradle Hill, with a cheque for £100.

All the children did really well in tackling this task, and I’m sure that they learned a lot from taking part. It was interesting to see that, even after comments like “I can’t do this” they were very quick to turn this around and approach the particular difficulty with a positive attitude. They all seemed to enjoy the day, and were very well behaved. Congratulations to them all!

Our thanks must go to Sara Barnes and her team at Seaford Head School for making the first attempt at this competition such a great success. We hope that we will be able to repeat this on an annual basis.

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