How do you teach science through engineering amidst lockdowns and school closures?

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Dr Fay Lewis, Programme Leader MA – Education in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE Bristol, describes how students from UWE Bristol provided an innovative introduction to science and engineering for local primary school children.

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) taking place this year between 5-14th March.

Despite the many challenges of taking part in Science Week during a global pandemic, UWE Primary Education students have been engaging with celebrations whole-heartedly, ensuring that local children have the best opportunity possible to celebrate science and its role in society.  The students have been exploring novel ways of cross curricular working, finding new ways of connecting with local schools despite lockdowns, school closures and a whole lot of uncertainty!

This cross-faculty work brought together groups of student teachers and student engineers to design a range of engineering challenges and activities to introduce local primary school children to engineering and to help them to explore science through engineering. 

But how to teach a class of pupils during a time of school closures and remote learning?

Our students solved that problem, collaborating together to create their own blend of face to face and digital educational resources providing children across the primary age phase with opportunities to meet engineers, gain an insight into their work and experience some engineering themselves.

Over 50 student engineers recorded a set of videos; the first to introduce themselves to the pupils, the area of engineering they study, their interests, what inspired them to become engineers, and advice about different engineering career pathways. The second video was more subject-specific, helping teach the pupils some of their curriculum-linked learning using a combination of presentations, demonstrations and follow-along activities.  The student teachers then took these materials into schools and explored these videos with children alongside working through the engineering challenges devised by the collaborative groups.

From the feedback coming in so far from all students involved, it looks like the project has been a huge success! We’d like to thank all of the students and schools involved!


Meet Noble, student engineer at UWE Bristol, introducing himself to KS1 students and having some fun with forces.

Link to further videos from students in the UWE Bristol Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics

Dr Fay Lewis

Programme Leader – MA Education, Department of Education and Childhood

Covid- Proof Engineering in Schools

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Despite the pandemic, approximately sixty primary schools, took part in an engineering challenge as part of British Science week supporting the ‘Big Beam In’ run by DETI (Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation Initiative). The challenges were planned by teacher education and engineering students from UWE Bristol.

For the live teaching by our students in schools, the children were given an engaging engineering challenge supported by videos from the engineers on what it is like being an engineering student and also explaining the science in their task. Other schools were sent teaching packs with activities and videos from the teacher and engineers. Some of engineers’ videos can be seen on Youtube at

The aim of the project is to develop communication and outreach skills in engineers and to give the education students an experience of planning and teaching an engineering task in schools. The children will get an understanding of the broad range of engineering careers as well as exposure to everyday role models studying engineering and talking about why it interests them. Elizabeth Hadlington (Yr 2 Primary Education) said this was ‘an exciting opportunity to gather an insight into engineering allowing us to inspire young minds and create opportunities for the future’.

For further details please contact or

The image is a slide from UWE students Charlie Simmonds (Yr 2 Primary Education) and Noble Varghese ( Yr 3 Engineering) for KS1

Empowering autistic children: Experiencing a museum through a customised app

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For most of us, a visit to the museum is a chance to relax, to learn interesting stories from our past. We can probably remember school visits to museums when we were younger. However, for some children, the visit can be challenging: namely autistic children.  

Some research highlights that involving children with autism in recreational activities helps to support inclusion, reinforces positive behaviours, and enhances well-being.  Within this context, a museum visit is considered a pleasant way to spend leisure time, as it provides interesting stories to inspire and engage visitors; while offering opportunities for experiential learning through play-based activities. 

In response to the growing international drive for equal rights and diversity, museums have been encouraged to embrace new ways to provide access to services, with a focus on providing access to people with a diverse range of disabilities. This coupled with an ongoing rise in diagnoses of autism has led museums to address issues of integration. Considering the needs of autistic visitors, museums have attempted to integrate an individualised supportive environment and to provide sensory-friendly activities. In addition, improvements have been made to the physical spaces of these environments. Responding to the prevalence of digital media, museums have gone one step further to consider digital practices as a means of engaging visitors with various impairments. However, the adoption of mobile services in museums seems to target specific groups, and there is little work regarding digital platforms developed specifically for autistic people.

With technology for autistic users being well researched with many attributed benefits, the role of technology in museums represents a timely area of study – this is the focus of my PhD work.

Benefits of technology for autistic users includes:

  1. Slower presentation of information/communication;
  2. Reduced pressures of completing activity (with others);
  3. Computers and technologies can be predictable, systematic and logical; all supporting the strengths of the autistic communities.

With this in mind novel technology programs have been developed to promote various aspects of education, communication, and entertainment, as well as social skills. 

My PhD study has been focused on addressing the potential of using digital services in a museum for autistic visitors. It investigated the views and impact of a digital museum experience (through a museum-based app) of autistic children. One of the main aims was to examine whether a museum-based app could be a mediating tool to enable groups of autistic children to have an inclusive experience in a barrier-free environment. 

My study was conducted in several stages, and cycles of an iterative process were included to help build an optimal version of the touch-screen interface. This study was conducted in collaboration with a special educational needs school and the M Shed museum in Bristol. The design and development of the app was based on existing literature coupled with recommendations and feedback from the participating children.  

So far, the findings suggest that a museum-based app was viewed as a useful tool to provide equal opportunities for autistic children in which to participate with museum-related activities.  Given that autistic people can encounter profound challenges in their daily life and feel marginalized from society, a specific adaptation is necessary in this context (a museum). The use of the app during the visit seemed to act as a bridge and to guide the children by focusing on specific exhibits in the gallery. The data also revealed that the choice of the exhibits through play-based activities encouraged the children to be more motivated and to remain focused on the requested tasks.

Overall, the findings from this study support the idea that:

  1. The use of technology-based museum activities can contribute to the inclusion of the autistic community.
  2. The role of partnerships with specialists from different fields are an important aspect of providing high quality outcomes.

This study aimed to shed light on an under researched area and to inform future policy and services provided by museums. This, in turn, could help young autistic people (and their caregivers) access museums in meaningful and supportive ways – and so they can get more out of the experience. 

Author: Dimitra Magkafa is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Arts, Cultural Industries and Education, the University of the West of England.

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