Walton Priory team win national science and technology challenge

• Left to right: Aimee Watson, Megan Barlow, Jennifer Dainty and Eve Robins.

A team of four girls from Walton Priory Middle School have won the BP Ultimate STEM Challenge, held at the Science Museum on Monday, March 12.

This is a national competition, aimed at young engineers and scientists, aged 11 to 14, and 12 teams from schools all over the country were chosen for the final in London.

This year’s competition theme – My Sustainable Future – challenged the students to develop solutions to one of three real-world challenges: Handy Hydro, Parched Plants or Brilliant Biogas.

All the challenges were designed to encourage students to think about how they could help to reduce natural resource use or bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

Winners Aimee Watson, Eve Robins, Jenny Dainty and Megan Barlow were praised by the judges for their innovative scientific thinking, excellent presentation skills and passion for science communication. Their winning solution focused on the use of a waterwheel and dam – the students even conducted a series of experiments with a prototype in a local stream. The team won an Ultimate STEM Experience day, £500 to spend on science equipment or field trips, as well as Science Museum goodies.

STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) is a key part of the vision at Walton Priory. Pupils spend an afternoon each week on STEM project work. Over many weeks in the after-school STEM Club, the girls built a waterwheel using old bicycle wheels and scrap timber. Some clever gearing attached the wheel to an £8 second-hand dynamo which was bought via eBay from China. On a freezing cold day in January, they lugged the wheel out to the stream on the Downs Banks, built a dam and managed to produce enough electricity to operate some Christmas tree lights. The readings on the voltmeters were all over the place, and the dam leaked, but the girls demonstrated that more electricity was generated as the water in the dam became deeper.

Eve Robins said:

“We’re all so exhilarated to have won! When you see talent shows on TV, you don’t know how you will react when you win, but now we know!

“The best part of our experience was designing and building the prototype to test in the stream. We knew we wanted to be practical and get our hands dirty, but we also loved presenting today and meeting all the other competitors.

“I only joined our school’s STEM Club in September, and I’m really glad I did because we get to run our own projects and work independently.”

Feedback from the judges included:

“The Walton Priory team’s enthusiasm shone through in everything they did. We were impressed by the way they solved numerous problems on the way to success and their technical knowledge was excellent. They obviously enjoy STEM at the school.”

Mrs Dudley, Science teacher said:

“This team really deserve to be national champions. A waterwheel isn’t new technology, obviously, but their resilience when things didn’t work was a joy to see. They grew in confidence, worked hard (even outside in bitterly cold weather) and learned a great deal about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”