Get Inventing! An archives-inspired STEM challenge

“They really enjoyed the challenge, they found they had to think but enjoyed doing something creative!”

-Middle School Teacher

During the last 3 weeks of the 2020 summer term (when schools in England were only open to certain year groups and children of key workers due to the Covid-19 crisis) Newcastle University Library Education Outreach Team worked with a local middle school to try out a remote, archives-inspired STEM challenge.

The children began by exploring Newcastle University’s Amazing Archives website to find out about some of the science-related items in Newcastle University’s Archives and Special Collections. Next, they investigated some of the great inventions and inventors of the past, and their links to some of the items in Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives. Finally, the children were challenged to get creative and come up with a fantastic invention idea of their own.

Read on to see the top 10 invention ideas selected by our panel of judges!

The Alarm Curtains

The Alarm Curtains by Jamie

We thought this was a great idea to stop people sleeping in and a much gentler way to be woken up than by your alarm clock going off!

The Sand Remover

The Sand Remover by Cameron

Most of us love going to the beach, but don’t like getting sand stuck between our toes. We thought this was a great practical idea that would solve a common problem.

Solar Panel Plane

Solar Panel Plane by Natalia

A lot of thought has gone into this design for an environmentally friendly aircraft. Look out for more hybrid planes like this in the future.


Dogobot by Chloe

A beautifully presented idea, which we are sure many dog owners would find useful.

Baby Clothes Cleaner

Baby Clothes Cleaner by Chloe

We’d heard of duster slippers before, but had never thought of getting a crawling baby to help with the housework! This idea made us smile.

Colour Changing Water Bottle

Colour Changing Water Bottle by Charlie

It’s so important to keep hydrated. We think this invention would appeal to children and encourage them to drink more water.

Water Measuring Plant Pot

Water Measuring Plant Pot by Leo

Not all of us are green fingered and, for those who aren’t, being reminded by text message when we need to water our plans would be really helpful.

The Heet Mug

The Heet Mug by Jack

Cup of tea gone cold? Mug of hot chocolate too hot too drink? We love this idea to solve everyday problems we’ve all encountered.

The Chamelon

The Chameleon by Hannah

A brilliant idea to make life easier for the inventor’s brother. We absolutely loved this idea and it’s name, which gives you a clue that it involves something changing.

The Motor Bike Rubber

The Motor Bike Rubber by Ross

Another fantastic solution to a real life problem faced by the inventor. This invention will improve visibility when riding a motorcycle in the rain.

Sir Lawrence Arthur Pattinson: The Story of a First World War pilot

This project, inspired by letters written by First World War pilot, Sir Lawrence Pattinson, and made possible due to a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, enabled a group of Year 9 and 10 school children from two Northumberland schools to find out what is was like to be a pilot during the First World and put their own design and engineering skills to the test.

Day 1

The project began with the students visiting Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives where they were able to handle and read the letters written by Pattinson to his mother during the First World War. In his letters, Pattinson describes his experiences of flying over the Western Front, including for reconnaissance, and gives detailed accounts of his encounters with enemy aircraft, flying in bad weather and a mission to retrieve a broken down aircraft. The students were particularly interested in one letter, pictured below, in which Pattinson included detailed sketches of the aircraft he had encountered.

The students then visited the Armstrong Building where they saw the Armstrong College Memorial, a war memorial which commemorates the staff, students of Armstrong College, who lost their lives during the First World War. Here, the students learned about some of the individuals named on the memorial who lost their lives whilst serving in the Royal Flying Corps, including some who were shot down by the infamous Red Baron.

Next, in the School of History, the students had a mini lecture on aviation during the First World War. In the lecture they learned about the development of aircraft during this period, including the advances in aeroplane design, the use of zeppelins by the Germans and the role of individuals including the Red Baron.

‘I learned that each plane had a specific job, they couldn’t multi-task’

‘Planes developed very quickly due to war’

‘Planes were unreliable’

A talk by the RAF gave the students an insight into how much things have developed over the last 100 years, with the students noting how much more sophisticated and reliable aircraft are nowadays, how much more training pilots are given and enjoying the chance to try out some of the kit worn by pilots today.

Day 1 of the project finished with the children having a tour of the School of Mechanical Engineering where they got to see machinery in action in the different workshops. This visit was designed to get them ready for the next phase of the project which would see the students start to think like engineers.

Day 2

The second day of the project saw the children visit the North East Land, Sea and Air Museum in Washington to see a replica First World War aircraft, the Morane-Saulnier and learn about its pilot, local man Claude Ridley.

‘I enjoyed seeing old planes and the history behind them’

‘I found it interesting that the replica plane was hand built but part of it was 3D printed’.

‘The most interesting thing I learned about the replica First World War plane was that it had rotating wings’

‘The fabric around the plane is hardened and shrunk using dope’

‘It’s surprisingly cheap to make a non-working replica’

‘The most interesting thing I learned was that Claude Ridley was head of an airbase at 19 [years old]’

In the afternoon, the students had a tour of the nearby Rolls Royce facility to see how aircraft turbine discs are manufactured today.

‘I enjoyed the factory tour’

‘I enjoyed seeing the machines’

‘I enjoyed learning about a new job experience’

Day 3

Day 3 of the project saw the students participate in some workshops led by STEM practitioner Technology Tom. The students took part in some experiments to show them the basic principles of flight, before having a go at designing their own First World War aircraft, inspired by the sketches in Pattinson’s letters.

Day 4

The final day of the project was a Challenge Day held at Newcastle University in which the students worked in teams to research, design, build and improve their own World War I style aircraft. They then had a competition to see which aircraft could glide the furthest, and which looked most like the sketches in Pattinson’s letters. Judging was done by the University’s STEM Outreach Team and the students reflected on their learning and received a CREST Discovery award in recognition of all their hard work!

Have a go yourself!

An education pack has been created to enable other schools to have a go at the same activities as the students in this project, from using extracts from Sir Lawrence Pattinson’s letters to discover what it was like to be a pilot in the First World War, to carrying out experiments to learn about the principles of flight and designing their own model aircraft. You can download the education pack here:

For more information about the services offered by the University Library Education Outreach Team please visit our website:

Votes for Women: Stop-Motion Animation

Taking their inspiration from the 1910 book, ‘Votes for Catharine Susan and Me’ by Kathleen Ainslie, Year 7 students from George Stephenson High School created their own peg doll style puppets and worked with a professional animator to tell the stories of key people involved in the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century.

Firstly, the students visited Special Collections where they saw the anti –suffrage book ‘Votes for Catharine Susan and Me’ (RB 823.912 AIN) and other items, including a banner belonging to Ethel Williams used in pro-suffrage processions.

Next, the students experienced a mini-lecture to learn about the 1918 Representation of the People Act, had a guided walk around Newcastle City centre and used the internet to find out more about of the individuals, places and events associated with the campaign for women’ suffrage in the North East of England.

Finally, with support from their Design and Technology and Art teachers, and from Lesley-Anne Rose, a professional puppet maker and animator, the students designed and made their own puppets and created stop-motion animations about women including Emily Davison, Emmeline Pankhurst and Ethel Williams and events such as the so-called ‘Battle of Newcastle’, 1909.

The Battle of Newcastle (1909)

Ethel Williams

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emily Wilding Davison

For more information about the services offered by the University Library Education Outreach Team please visit our website:

Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales Project

Once upon a time there were some Year 8 students who visited Special Collections and were inspired to write and illustrate their own fairy tales.

Taking their inspiration from some of the fairy tales in Special Collections, and with support from the School of English literature, Language and Linguistics and the School of Arts and Cultures at Newcastle University as well as Seven Stories and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, the students wrote and illustrated their own fairy tales.

Their illustrated stories were published in an anthology, a copy of which was presented to each student who took part in the project at an end of project celebration event.

The schools involved were Excelsior Academy, St Cuthbert’s High School and Park View School.

Find out more information about the project on the Vital North Partnership blog.

For more information about the services offered by the University Library Education Outreach Team please visit our website: