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.

A Tale of Two Sieges: A collaborative education outreach project

“It was fun”, “It was really fun”, “I really enjoyed it”, “When you’re learning things, but you do it in a fun way you learn more”. These are just a few of the comments from Ponteland High School’s Year 8 students, who took part in an Education Outreach Project with Newcastle University Library. Teaming up with The National Civil War Centre (located in Newark), this was our first long distance project involving a school local to ourselves and one in Newark. 

Taking inspiration from our Special Collections (this time our Civil War Tracts), we worked with two classes of Year 8 students from Ponteland and Newark. We challenged them to conceive, write and perform a play inspired by the archives on the sieges of Newcastle and Newark during the English Civil War. 

For both schools, day one began with a visit to Newcastle University’s Special Collections. Professional evaluation (which was undertaken to measure the impact of the project), highlights many students commented that this was “their favourite part of the whole project”, and it was ‘really cool’. One student summed it up by saying “I liked looking at the old stuff”; whilst another commented “you know that these things happened, but it makes it more real seeing them…”. The students then experienced other parts of the campus; enjoying a lecture from Dr Rachel Hammersley (from the School of History), along with a comics workshops (based on the political comics in the Civil War Tracts) led by Lydia Wysocki of Applied Comics Etc

Being a collaborative, distanced project, both schools worked separately on their play. Ponteland High school worked with ourselves, the Time Bandits (historical re-enactment group) and Cap-a-Pie theatre company. Uniquely the students were given a week off normal timetable to focus on the project. This meant Cap-a-Pie took the students on an amazing journey, ensuring all the script, soundscapes and directions were developed by the students. Consequently, the students felt a sense of ownership over their work, with one teacher commenting “You can see how engaged they are – it’s brilliant”. Newark Academy worked with The National Civil War Centre’s Learning and Participation team, committing to rehearsals after school, and created their own separate play based on one of the three sieges of Newark. One of the benefits of the project was the excellent links it created and cemented between the local secondary school and the museum, with both sides firmly committing to build upon this in the future. 

Students performing their plays at the National Civil War centre

To bring the project together and celebrate the student’s success, both schools visited The National Civil War Centre where they took part in an education workshop on warfare during the Civil War. They then had the amazing opportunity to perform their play to each other on a professional stage at the Newark Palace Theatre. As their teacher commented “Opportunities like this are brilliant – they’ll remember this for years and years”. 

The joint video shows the highlights for both schools and the two separate videos trace the journey taken by each school during this project.  

A video celebrating the English Civil War project carried out between Newcastle University, the National Civil War Centre, Newark Academy and Ponteland High School.
Ponteland High School students visit to Newcastle University Archives and the National Civil War centre, inspired them to create a play on the English Civil War.
Newark Academy students visit to Newcastle University Archives and the National Civil War centre, inspired them to create a play on the English Civil War.

We’d like to say a huge well done to all the students who took part for their hard work and enthusiasm which resulted in two great performances! 

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

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:

A Sense of Place

Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School, Prudhoe Community High School standing underneath the sycamore tree at Sycamore Gap in Northumberland.

The Education Outreach team teamed up with Historic England, Northumberland National Park, English Heritage and colleagues from the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts and the School of Fine Art to provide a unique educational experience for 90 Year 9 students from Northumberland.

With funding from Historic England we worked with Bedlington Academy, Haydon Bridge High School and Prudhoe Community High School to challenge Year 9 students to write a poem and create a piece of artwork inspired by our Bewick images held in our Special Collections and the majestic beauty of Northumberland National Park.

Each student enjoyed three days of activities…

Day One – Newcastle University

Firstly, the students visited the University Library where they studied the Bewick images held in Special Collections. Next, they walked across campus to the Percy Building where award winning published poet, Sinéad Morrissey delivered a lecture on poetry and Sense of Place. Finally, the students took part in a poetry workshop led by published poets and lecturers from Newcastle University.

“I liked to look at all the different books and materials. It gave me a lot of ideas about what to write”

“I learned how to form a poem through structure and developing a deeper meaning which otherwise I would have struggled with’”

“The poetry workshop helped me have new ideas and it made it easier to get creative and write poems”

Day Two – The Sill, Northumberland National Park

On the second day of the project the students travelled to The Sill where they spent the morning exploring artwork and poetry inspired by the landscape of Northumberland National Park. In the afternoon, a National Park Ranger led them on a walk to Sycamore Gap. On the walk, the ranger and an Education Officer from English Heritage talked to the students about the landscape, heritage, flora and fauna. Then students then took some time out to be inspired by their surroundings and to write poems and do some sketching, which they were able to take home to work on some more.

“It was really fun and I’ve left feeling inspired!”

“I really enjoyed it and the weather was good for the walk! I thought that the opportunity and freedom we had to make notes helped me with my finished piece”

“To walk around allowed me to explore the meanings of art and poetry related to Northumberland”

Day Three- Newcastle University

The third and final day of the project took place back at Newcastle University. The students enjoyed a guided tour of the Hatton gallery and the School of Fine Art before taking part in a Print Making workshop led by Northern Print.

“Fantastic, messy, I loved the painting techniques the most”

“It makes me feel as though I can be crowned with the title of Artist officially – and proud”

“It made me enjoy art more and feel more creative and better at art”


The student’s poetry and artwork was displayed at The Sill, Northumberland National Park throughout August. Several of the students commented on how much they enjoyed the project and how proud they felt of their work.

“It’s a new experience that opens your eyes to things you hadn’t known before”

“It makes me feel proud that my work is good enough to be exhibited”

“I’m very proud that my work can be seen by anyone at the Sill”

Their teachers also felt the project had been extremely successful.

“Our students will take life long memories from this project. It has been incredibly rewarding”

Click on the links below to download the exhibitions in PDF format;

Prudhoe Community High School clickable box to download the exhibition
Haydon Bridge High School clickable box to download the exhibition
Bedlington Academy clickable box to download the exhibition

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

A Local Tommy

Header image includes school children holding Special Collections material, a photograph of Thomas Baker Brown and a child trying on a WWI children's gas mask

To commemorate the end of the First World War and made possible with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Year 5 children from Star of the Sea Primary School and Carville Primary School worked with Newcastle University and Cap-a-Pie Theatre company to research, produce and perform a play commemorating the First World War through the archive of a local solider, Thomas Baker Brown.

Our teacher resource pack has been created by Newcastle University Education Outreach team and Cap-a-Pie Theatre Company, to provide a mix of History, English and Drama activities for you to recreate in your classroom.

Download ‘A Local Tommy’ resource pack

The Time Bandits, an historical interpretation group, visited the children in school to teach them about the First World War.

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was meeting new people and learning new things”

The children visited Newcastle University Library, where they were able to see and handle items from Thomas Baker Brown’s archive including his signallers’ badges, a matchbox, and some of the letters he wrote home to his family.

They worked with comic artist Lydia Wysocki to create their own comics based on the information they had learnt from the archive.

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was we got to feel objects and listen to experts in History”

“My favourite item in the Thomas Baker Brown archive was the photo of Thomas in his uniform because it meant I could see what he looked like and that makes it all very real”

“The one thing I learned about life in the trenches was that the weather was very liquefied so the trenches were very wet and muddy”

“My favourite item in the Thomas Baker Brown archive was the button cleaner to clean the buttons because I never knew that they cleaned their uniforms’”

“The thing I enjoyed most about today was that we touched really old things!”

“The thing I enjoyed the most about today was making a comic about Thomas Baker Brown”

Back at school, the children worked for a full week with Cap-a Pie Theatre company to co-write and produce their own play about Thomas Baker Brown.

“I am looking forward to being the most perfect actor in the playhouse because I have never acted before in my life!”

“I am most looking forward to performing my play at Whitely Bay Playhouse because of being in front of people doing drama and because my mum will be so proud!”

“Cap-a- Pie theatre company just make it all very enjoyable, like somehow they just make you so happy!”

“The thing I have enjoyed most so far about working Cap-a-Pie Theatre Company is doing the soundscape because it was super fun!”

“I am looking forward to performing our play at Whitley Bay Playhouse because I think I will nail-it because I’ll know what I am doing!”

Related Sources

Thomas Baker Brown

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:

A North East ABC

Header image showing a group of 6 primary school pupils holding up their alphabet books

Inspired by a similar project in the North West of England (Heritage Schools does ‘A Manchester Alphabet’) nine classes of Year 5 children from five primary schools in Newcastle and Gateshead researched, wrote and illustrated their own class alphabet books all about their local heritage.

The project began with teachers attending a CPD day at the Philip Robinson Library where they saw items from Special Collections including Joseph Crawhall II’s Old Aunt Elspa’s ABC (1884) and material from the Seven Stories archive. They also received advice and support on creating their own Alphabet Book from Newcastle University Library Education Outreach Team, Historic England, Seven Stories, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and other heritage professionals. This launched a fabulous project in which the children researched their local heritage and created a page of their class alphabet book.

From Ant and Dec and the Angel of the North to Fenwick’s department store and the Victoria Tunnel, they uncovered some fantastic facts and did some beautiful illustrations, deepening their understanding of what makes the North East of England a unique and special place to live and helping their schools to become heritage schools along the way.

Celebration assemblies were held in each school, with each child receiving their very own copy of their class alphabet book.

If you’d like to get your class to create an alphabet book about their local heritage, you may find it useful to download this instruction sheet.

How to make your own alphabet book

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

Story of the Civil War in the North East

“Belta, Mint and Enjoyable” were the words used by one Year 8 student to describe their experience at our Civil War Celebration Day at Tynemouth Priory on 22 June. The day saw the culmination of a year’s activities between ourselves, four local schools, four academic schools, English Heritage and heritage professionals that was inspired by our 17th century collections here at Newcastle University Special Collections. Whilst involving numerous partners at heart the project was about inspiring Year 8 students to engage with History, the University and their local heritage in a fun and innovative way.

With £9,927 of Heritage Lottery Funding the project enabled the education outreach staff from Newcastle University Special Collections to work with all Year 8 students across four local schools on four different school disciplines. Each school would work with an academic to gain a deeper knowledge and different perspective of their subject. Following which 30 students from each school would be chosen to represent their school at the celebration day kindly hosted by English Heritage at Tynemouth Priory and showcase the work they had completed.

The following schools were involved.

Bedlington Community Hight School – Food Technology

Year 8 Food Technology students from Bedlingtonshire Community High School visited our Special Collections to see our 17th century recipe book. They transcribed the recipe and then went to the University kitchens to bake the recipes.

“It was great to see the link spreading initially from the library but them drawing in expertise from across the university. Engaging with schools, even within this age group, is essential for the University. We need to be more proactive in schools’ engagement and this project is an excellent example of how this can be successfully achieved.”

-Professor Chris Seal

“Today was awesome!”

-Bedlington Year 8 student

They even got to be on TV!

Kenton School – History

Year 8 History students from Kenton School completed two workshops to find out about the Civil War and Tynemouth Priory and the role it played in the Civil War. On day one they visited the University to see the original resources which inspired the whole project before visiting the School of History to enjoy a lecture delivered by Dr Rachel Hammersley.

Upon returning to the Philip Robinson Library they used the original sources to research and write a pop up museum informing all about the Civil War.

“Just seeing the Kenton pupils so excited about their pop-up-museum and hearing them talk authoritatively to visitors and other pupils about the Civil War in the North East.” Civil War in the North East.”

-Dr Rachel Hammersley – favourite part of the day

“Making the pop up museum because I learnt about what happened in the Civil War”

-Year 8 student

On Day two the students visited Tynemouth Priory to have a guided tour around the English Heritage property given by Dr Rachel Hammersley and the Education Officer for the North East at English Heritage. They then took photos, gathered information and thought about what would make an interesting trail. Upon returning to the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms they created their own trails which other students would then enjoy at the celebration day.

Many of the students remarked about how much they had enjoyed the celebration day as they could see everyone reading their museum or completing the trails.

“Doing the trails because it showed all my hard work paid off”

-Year 8 student

“Designing the trails and seeing the students go round enjoying themselves has been my favourite part of today”

-Mandy Marsh (History teacher)

“All of the children I engaged with today were clearly extremely proud of the work they had done and spoke about it articulately and with confidence.”

-Dr Rachel Hammersley

“It was a great day and the students really enjoyed it. It was good to see all the hard work and the collaboration end with such an enjoyable time.”

-Mandy Marsh (History teacher)

Longbenton High School – English and Drama

The Education Outreach team worked with Tracy Gilman, drama practitioner from the School of English to deliver drama and creative writing workshops to all Year 8 students at Longbenton High School. We then invited the chosen 30 students to the University for a drama workshop.

They spent time interviewing the Time Bandits (Historical re-enactment group) to find out about life in the 17th century. The remaining time was spent writing, editing and rehearsing the play they would eventually perform to all at the celebration day at Tynemouth Priory.

“Liked going to the University as it was fun”

-Year 8 student

“The trip to the university was a very special opportunity for a number of the group whose family have not attended university. They enjoyed being taught in the building and feeling ‘grown up’. A number definitely felt inspired to return!”

-Clare Campbell (English teacher)

The Longbenton students did an amazing job and wowed all with the play that they delivered to all students, teachers, academics, family and public!

“Our students had a fantastic time today and we were so proud of them! Especially as many of them are not the usual students to become involved in events like this – we were amazed at their confidence.”

-Clare Campbell (English teacher)

“The play got to show people our hard work”

-Year 8 student

Monkseaton Middle School – Science

Year 8 science students from Monkseaton Middle School studied our fantastic Medicine through Time resources on Pare and Vesalius to find out about treatments for gunshot wounds in the past. This was brought full circle when they went to the University science labs to find out about blood loss and how infection would be treated now and the use of antibiotics and antiseptics.

“Blood clotting […] was very interesting”

-Year 8 student

At the celebration day we were all able to try out the blood clotting experiments they had developed and find out how dirty our hands are with UV torches!

“It gave the pupils the confidence to talk to others about the project.”

-Gillian Whitmell (Science teacher)

“I was really pleased that the students were keen to get involved showcasing the practical itself. We had to do very little in terms of instructing the students. They were very motivated.”

-Dr Lindsey Ferrie

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:

Our Wallington: Victorian Scrapbook

The Trevelyans were a wealthy influential family who lived at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. They played an important role in politics, culture and education in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cambo First School sits on the lands of the ancestral home of the Trevelyan family of Wallington Hall now bequeathed to The National Trust. In this project the Education Outreach team at Newcastle University Special Collections worked with Cambo First School to investigate the Trevelyan photo albums. This involved the children visiting the archives, completing various Victorian entertainments during a Victorian day in school, orienteering to re-create the original Trevelyan photos and much more.

Front cover of 'Our Wallington' by Cambo First School and Newcastle University Library
Cambo First School album
Front cover of a Trevelyan family album, Volume 1 (1894-1903)

Click on the Cambo album to turn the pages of the Victorian album produced by the children at Cambo First School in Northumberland.

Click on the original Trevelyan album to get a glimpse of the materials that inspired the Cambo album.

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