Bringing engineering to life with some Key Stage 2 schoolchildren and K’nex

Last year, I signed up as a STEM Ambassador. With my employer’s backing, I can now volunteer to take part in events that are intended to bring Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects to life and demonstrate their value in life and in careers.

I receive regular invitations to take part in events but, until recently, I hadn’t been able to make them fit around my calendar. Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an invitation to run an engineering workshop with some Year 4-6 students as part of a school Science Day. The brief was to give a short presentation on:

  • What is STEM?
  • Why STEM skills are important
  • The story of what I was like at school and what I wanted to do for a job
  • What I do now
  • What I enjoy about my job

and then to facilitate an activity, breaking the children into small teams with a box of K’nex to build a tower that could support a small object.

I was pretty nervous about the activity – after all, I’m not a teacher! I spent quite a bit of time tuning the presentation and, taking advice from my own children (who are in years 6 and 8), making sure there were lots of images (that’s my style anyway) and animations. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the school, the animations were useless: PowerPoint 2010 didn’t like my 2016-based graphics so I quickly removed all of the transitions and animations – and the moral of the story there is don’t take advice from your 13 year-old…

I ran two workshops, each with a class of around 28 children. The teachers were present at all times (dealing with any disruptive children) and I found I just needed to be myself, to answer the children’s questions (which, of course, ranged from “what age can you start being an engineer?” to “what car do you drive?”) and to guide them during the activity.

I set out the activity as a challenge, with requirements and materials:

STEM engineering challenge, with requirements and materials

but I didn’t tell the children how to make a tower strong.

Time to test the towers

Only after we had tested it, did we spend some time talking about the things they had done to make their towers work (and all of them had managed this themselves, whether they did it consciously or not).

Making towers strong and stable

It was fantastic to see how each group approached the activity – each team had different ideas for how they might use the K’nex. Some children had played with it before whilst others needed some advice on how to make the connectors and rods fit together but almost every team completed the challenge successfully. The one team that didn’t complete the task had struggled because they had divided into two smaller groups and ended up with two short towers – that gave me an opportunity to talk about teamwork and also about project management (managing to time!).

I came away from school that afternoon with a great buzz. It’s wonderful to hear children say things like “I like your lessons – they’re fun!” and “Are you coming back next year?”. And, if you want to know more about STEM Ambassadors (either getting someone involved in an activity or event – or perhaps becoming one yourself), check out the website.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 refuses to power on: fixed with a handful of elastic bands

This week didn’t start well (and it hasn’t got much better either) but Monday morning was a write-off, as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 that I use for work wouldn’t “wake up”.

I’d used it on Friday, closed the “lid” (i.e. closed the tablet against the Type Cover) and left it on a table all weekend. Come Monday and it was completely dead. I tried charging it for a while. I tried Power and Volume Up/Down combinations. I tried holding the power button down for 30 secs (at which point the light on the charging cable flashed, but that was all).

After speaking to colleagues in our support team, it seemed I’d tried everything they could think of and we were sure it was some sort of battery failure (one of my customers has seen huge levels of battery failure on their Surface Books, suspected to be after they were kept in storage for an extended period without having been fully shut down).

I was ready for a long drive to Stafford to swap it for another device, hoping that OneDrive had all of my data synced and that I didn’t get the loan Dell laptop with the missing key (I’m sure that’s a warning to look after our devices…).

Then I found a post on the Windows Central Forums titled “Surface Pro 3 won’t turn back on! – possible solution when all hope is lost”.

All hope was indeed lost. This had to be worth a read?

“My SP3 mysteriously stopped working yesterday morning. (Keep reading to the end for the solution that worked for me and maybe you too!)

It was fine the night before. […]

I spent the morning attempting to reboot the SP3. I thought maybe my charger wasn’t working even though I did see a white LED light on the adapter that connects to the Surface. I tried the hard reset, the 2-button reset, every combination of the volume up and down with the power button.

[…]

Finally, this morning, I caved in and call MS support. The tech said she would charge me $30 for a remote over the phone troubleshooting. I declined as I’ve tried everything I’ve found on the internet. Instead, I scheduled app with the MS store support in Garden City, NY (Roosevelt Field Mall).

I had the first or second app: 11:15am. The tech, I think his name was Adam, young guy in his 20’s. I told Adam my issue and that I’ve tried everything. I even had a USB LED light to show that the battery in my case wasn’t the problem. The USB LED light lit up for a few seconds when I pressed power. He said the problem was internal hardware and they there was no way to fix it. Since my SP3 was out of warranty, the only solution from MS was full replacement for $500. But, since I needed my files, a replacement won’t do me any good. So, the only other solution was have it sent to a third party data recovery place for $1000! They would basically destroy the SP3 and MS would then be unable to replace it.

Talk about bad options. Neither one seemed practical. I asked Adam if he’s seen this type of problem with any of the Surfaces before. He said maybe one or twice before. I was about to leave when another guy walked with his Surface, sat down next to me and said his Surface won’t boot up. I looked at Adam and I didn’t believe this was a rare issue with the Surface. MS probably train their techs to say that because they don’t want a class action law suit on their hand.

Anyway, just before I left, Adam, did say something, almost accidentally that I picked up. He said some guy had used a rubber band to hold down the power button for about a day and eventually the Surface woke up from sleep.

When I came home this afternoon, I was sure I had a $1100 paper weight with me. With nothing to lose, I took out some rubber bands and popsicle stick. I placed the popsicle stick flat against the power button and used the rubber band to apply pressure to keep the power button depressed the whole time. I can see the USB light connected to my Surface coming on and off as the power cycled. No sign of the Surface waking up.

Came back from dinner (that’s 5 hours later) and noticed the USB light didn’t come on and off any more. But still no sign the Surface was back. My 8 yr old sons comes into my office sees the contraption and says “what’s this” and pulls the popsicle stick off the Surface. I wasn’t even paying attention.

Lo and behold! the F—ing Surface logo flashed on the screen and booted up!!!!!
I immediately plugged in the charger and a backup HD and copied all my files!”

I was struggling to find any elastic bands at home but then, as the day’s post landed on my doormat, I thought “Royal Mail. Rubber bands!” and chased the postie down the street to ask if she had any spares. She was more than happy to give me a handful and so this was my setup (I don’t know what a “popsicle stick” is, but I didn’t need one):

A couple of hours later, I removed the bands and tried powering on the Surface Pro. I couldn’t believe it when it booted normally:

So, if your Surface Pro 3 (or possibly another Surface model) fails to power on, you might want to try this before giving up on it as a complete battery failure.