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STEAM Powered Educations 'Tracked Vehicles' two day Holiday workshop

STEAM Powered Education had their sixth Holiday workshop on 26th and 27th October.

In the workshop, we tried to achieve these objectives over the two days.

· Build a tracked vehicle largely by yourself

· To understand how tracked vehicles can cross over very rough terrain

· Make some scenery to create an obstacle course for the tanks

· Successfully control and race the tanks across these obstacles

The workshop was attended by seven children varying in age from 7 to 13. The pictures will tell the story of the two day event:

The day started with an introduction to one another and an overview of the objectives and days events. We introduced ourselves as many were new to each other. I like to do a wordsearch of words that we will be using throughout the day so that was completed and we went on to discussing the day's events.

I like to have a background presentation to the theme. As it was 'Tracked Vehicles' I presented a slide show of the history of Tracked Vehicles. In my research I found out that the first tracked vehicle was invented by Sir George Carley as far back as 1825. Carley was an interesting inventor as he is also attributed with being the father of flight, being able to describe the principals of flight and the importance of wing shape in providing lift. The invention of the tracked vehicle cannot be underestimated. It has uses from civil engineering projects to farming to military and I guess that if Sir George was around today, he would be pointing all over the place and saying 'Look! Another vehicle with my invention on!'

The children had many questions about tanks. Many began to learn something about the first world war and how important a breakthrough the invention of the tank was.

As the questions poured in, we realised that we were late to start the first activity which was to make a tank using the 'Ingenious Machines' RC tank kit. Some also chose to make a Cobi Lego tank

These are excellent kits with great detail and authenticity. However, this particular kit, involves putting together 945 pieces so requires many hours of building and paying especially good care when making it. The children making these began well but struggled to complete them completely. Still, one did purchase this and take it home.

The other 'Ingenious Machines' tank kit seemed like a good idea as it had a remote control that had 8 different frequency channels. I had purchased another kit form 'Ingenious Machines' which worked really well but only had two frequency channels.

Unfortunately, the tank tracks on the other kits would not turn very well when completed. Despite numerous attempts, we had to simplify many of the tanks to make them move quickly. Usually, this involved removing weight and therefore taking off the turret.

I think I have learned another lesson in this journey of developing STEAM Powered Education. Test, test and retest your products before purchasing in bulk. I still feel 'Ingenious Machines' have good products as the Robitics kits are fun, cheap and exciting to drive. They just need to improve the Tank product and the instructions should be broken down into smaller chunks as there are some that are not clear which holes you put the connectors into.

There were some interesting innovations that some children made

One was changing the size of the cogs that led from the motor to the drive wheels. This increased speed.

One child abandoned the tracks altogether to create a speedy and manoeuvrable machine.

After break we continued making and innovating our tanks. I had purchased a one-on-one tank game that was a real hit with the children. The tanks fire infra-red light at a sensor on the other tank. There is also a reloading time and it counts up the hits you have and changes colour to

orange when you are hit. They are around £50 but well worth it as it is a quality product and is very addictive in a wholesome, 'can't wait to kill you!' way.

We played this again and again all through lunch and beyond.

After lunch the children were to begin making their scenery. This was to encourage children to learn the joy of making scenery as well as providing fun obstacles for the tanks to drive over.

I mixed up a modelling clay with water and each child had a small wooden board. Each had a dollop of clay to mould into a hill with some water feature nearby. Each were given a pre-moulded cliff face that they could stick on.

We left them to dry over night. I took them home to bake a little at a low temperature which helped dry them better.

The children loved playing with the moulding clay and we had a variety of different landscapes produced.

The afternoon was spent playing tank games, finishing making our tanks and playing some brain gym

activities ably led by Sam who's expertise as a Scout leader helped keep the children busy and happy.

Sam was an exceptionally able assistant and was largely volunteering his help. Many thanks to him for his great work!


After having spent the evening baking the plaster moulds in the oven to dry them out, the next morning we decided start the day by sanding them down and painting them.

I showed them and example of how to mix paints and that we must never assume that landscape is just green or grey or brown but a mixture of many colours.

Whilst the paint was drying, we began our bridge construction activity. The children were given till about 11.00am to build a bridge that spanned 40cm out of straws and glue only. They were

able to have as many straws as they liked but it had to support the weight of the tanks that we made. I suggested the idea of making equilateral triangles as this is a proven concept in bridge construction. However, they were to build a bridge that they thought would hold the weight of a toy tank.

They seemed to be getting on alright, although it did take some additional time for them to finish. Eventually, they were ready to test the bridges with toy tanks.

All of the bridges seemed to hold the weight of a tank. Next time, I think I will make it more challenging. Perhaps give them only 10 straws to do the same job.

After this fun bridge exercise we continued creating our scenery. The next stage was coating the scenery in PVA glue to the parts that one would like to have grass on. Then sprinkling the grass on gave an inspirational realism to them.

The children began to become more and more interested in the scenery. Lastly, we painted and decorated the trees drilling holes and planting them into their setting.

This progressed well with a few more sprinkles of other grasses and stick on grassy clumps the scenery was finished.

We decided to have a competition which was judged by Sam. The winner received a Lego Tank model.

This was a very exciting moment for me as I have loved scenery building since childhood and wanted so desperately to show this generation of children the joy of creating your own miniature worlds. They seemed to get hooked and were allowed to take these home.

After lunch, we used the scenery to create the obstacles that would use for our tank races. We created a series of one-on-one races within a rectangular course. The first race was just a simple race through or round the obstacles and back again to the start.

Some videos give you a sense of what I am trying to explain.

We tried to have relay races but the unreliable 'Ingenious Machines' tanks let us down a little. Thank goodness for the SYMA Remote Control Tanks ! They saved the day. They are a quality product and worth their now £60 price tag.

We finished with returning to the objectives of the two day course and some questions about what they have learned in the two days.

LESSONS from the workshop:

  • Do not buy 'Ingenious Machines' tanks despite the 8 frequency channel control units. The mechanism and motors cannot cope with the tracked movement and eventually break.

  • Give regular brain breaks during the sessions as they are long.

  • Reduce the length of the two day course to one and a half or just one day.

  • Limit the amount of materials for building a bridge (A lesson I should have already learned from teaching).

  • Bring along small human/ animal figures to go on the scenery as this adds extra realism and sparks their imagination.

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