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Collaboration and innovation to tackle marine litter

A blog post by Fiona Harkess

In this blog, St Andrew's RC Secondary Chemistry teacher Fiona Harkess reflects on her experience of working collaboratively with St Timothy's Primary teacher and STEM leader Emer Mooney in the neighbouring school to enter our STEM the Flow Engineering Challenge.

This  International Women’s Day, we recognise and are inspired by the joint efforts of these teachers to combine their skills and resources to support their pupils to design a solution to tackle marine litter in the River Clyde.

Women equate to just over 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK according to STEM Women. It was great to see the collaboration by these teachers to inspire young people which could potentially lead to more girls and young women seeking a career in STEM. The schools joint project won the category for Best Teamwork with their innovation of a solar powered recycle bin to be located around the Squinty Bridge so people could recycle their rubbish, and a system to prevent and retrieve litter from entering the river – a net barrier shaped to prevent litter entering the water. The STEM the Flow challenge offered a great opportunity to inspire both primary and secondary aged pupils through a valuable transition project.

Our joint project between St Andrew’s and St Timothy’s has developed from our on-going cluster partnership. We first established a link in developing and progressing our commitment to Learning for Sustainability during COP26, when young people from St Andrew’s visited Primary 4 pupils at St Timothy’s and took them through a range of activities related to the Climate Crisis. This was a huge success and provided a platform to continue to develop Learning for Sustainability in our learning community and encouraged us to look for other ways to strengthen this partnership.

The STEM the Flow Engineering Challenge presented an excellent opportunity for our pupils to be involved in a joint project as it could be accessed by pupils from P6 – S3, allowing us to create a team rather than having St Andrew’s pupils take the lead.

Emer and I could both see the potential for both our groups of young people to develop skills and learn from each other, taking advantage of the resources that each school provides. For example St Timothy’s, being a smaller school, were able to have input into the challenge from across the school and the young people were able to enhance their leadership roles by sharing their project and challenge design at assembly. Pupils at St Andrew’s are able to take advantage of the specialised equipment we have available and learn new skills in using technology to make their prototypes. We were also fortunate in being able to offer this opportunity to our St Timothy’s team members who, with the support of our Technical Department, joined St Andrews pupils to create models of their design.

The logistics of a joint project can be quite challenging when you factor in busy working days, other commitments and setting aside time for the pupils to work on the project. Our starting point for the STEM the Flow Engineering challenge was for all the pupils to meet and have a brainstorm. This followed the first online session which the groups participated in separately but were able to share and discuss their ideas at the brainstorming session. This provided them the chance to meet and decide on some key details of their project including team name, the problem they wanted to address through their design, concept for their design and decide what their roles would be in developing the design. Emer and I were in regular correspondence on the progress of our half of the team and updated regularly on where they were and what they still had to do.

Although our opportunities to meet were limited we endeavoured to make them as productive as possible. This included our first introduction and brainstorming meeting, a joint visit to the location that our STEM the Flow design challenge was being developed for, a visit to the technical department at St Andrew’s to build our prototypes and Teams meetings with our Mentor to share ideas and get feedback on our design and progress with our report and presentation.

Both Emer and I have enjoyed the process. It has thrown up challenges but we have been focussed on making this a success and are developing a template for future joint activities. We have been determined to push forward our schools’ commitment to Learning for Sustainability and the STEM the Flow Engineering Challenge has been the ideal platform for us to develop our own skills and knowledge in this area and as a platform for future collaborative ventures.

Tackling the climate crisis requires collaboration, innovation and education among many other actions. The effort shown by both Fiona and Emer is a wonderful example of showing leadership and encouraging the next generation to take climate action.

We support the