The university as a lending service – STEM learning with Lego

Dan James:

Institute of Reading


The case study will describe a TLEP (Teaching and Learning Enhancement Project) to develop STEM teaching and learning.  Over 400 Reading Partnership student teachers (RPTs) have received some training, which was well received in university sessions.  This case study will also describe how the programmable Lego kits were used successfully with 60 children who visited the university during their science week, as well as discussing future plans.


The aims for the TLEP were:

  • To provide the students the skills, resources and confidence within university to deliver cross-curricular STEM activities whilst on their school placement, either in lessons and / or as an after-school club.
  • To promote and model cross-curricular working within a module and collaborative working within the community.
  • To maximise the use of expensive resources and to demonstrate ‘proof-of-concept’ that lending of resources to partnership schools is viable.


The majority of the incoming primary teaching ITT (Initial Teacher Training) students do not take STEM A-levels and lack confidence teaching STEM in schools. Over the course of the teacher training programme, knowledge in the individual subjects improves.  However, due to the siloed nature of university module teaching, students do not always see the cross-curricular opportunities to teach the subjects, nor have the confidence to deliver STEM initiatives, especially design and engineering challenges to children. With an ever-increasing shortage of a skilled STEM workforce, promoting STEM skills in children from a primary age is important for the future of Britain’s economy (ASPIRES project, 2013). One major barrier to achieving this goal is schools having the finances to purchase equipment.  Even if schools have access to the necessary resources, they can often be used once and then lost in the back of the store cupboard.  Further barriers include teachers having the necessary skills and confidence to deliver these sessions.


By modelling working in a cross-curricular fashion and exposing students to carrying out the activity experientially, the aim was to upskill the RPTs (Reading Partnership student teachers) in their skills and confidence to deliver these types of STEM projects in their training placements and in their future schools.

Funding from the TLEP was used to purchase 10 Lego Spike Prime kits which provided sufficient resources for a class set both for use in university science teaching sessions, and with schools, where class numbers are approximately 30 children.  By the university purchasing the resources and making them available for lending through the Learning Hub at London Road, the barrier in terms of resource cost to schools using these kits (~£300 per box new) was therefore eliminated.

The ambition was that after the workshop session as part of their university course, the Reading Partnership Teachers (student teachers) would then be inspired to borrow the kits and use with their own classes.  However, the use of practical resources was severely hampered by covid-19, so the anticipated impact was reduced, and the timescale delayed.

But as part of a ‘Science Week’ in May 2022, a partnership school was invited to the science teaching labs on the London Road Campus.  The children from a years 5 and 6, took part in a session to build 2 different motorizable grabber arms, and evaluated which was the best grabber to pick up different plastics in a plastic recycling sorting facility.


Aim 1:  The university session provided the students the skills, resources and confidence, as evidenced by module reviews and overhearing many of the university students saying, “that was really fun!”.  It also gave them the chance to work together and problem-solve groups, developing relationships amongst the cohort.

Aim 2:  By inviting a school into the university’s science teaching lab, we met the aim of working collaboratively with the local community, meeting the aims of the Community, Engagement  and Sustainability strands of the University Strategy. The children very much enjoyed this with them rating the session 9 or 10, out of 10.

Aim 3:  This aim was to maximise the use of expensive resources and demonstrate  that this is an option when working in partnership with schools.  The fact that this work has already been used by 400 university children and 50 children, the means that the cost per participant is now down to approximately £5, based on the purchase cost of £2500.  As further students and children, use these resources this cost per participant will further reduce.


This was a good first good start to supporting delivery of these cross-curricular STEM sessions with a physical computing component. Part of this aim was also to model cross-curricular working within a module with the computing training happening in computing sessions.  Due to covid-19 disrupting the delivery of both the science and computing sessions, this was not as well implemented as initially hoped.

Further confidence and awareness in how these kits can be used would be beneficial to support increased implementation in schools, both for the trainee teachers and for experienced teachers mentoring them.

Follow Up

I am aiming to train experienced teachers in using the kits, to ensure even greater impact and support for our RPTs on school placements.

Digital Performance Lab: the application of tablet technologies in the teaching of contemporary performance

Professor Lib Taylor, School of Arts and Communication Design

Year of activity: 2012-13


DPLThe project explored how tablet technologies can be applied for teaching contemporary performance, through the creation of a Digital Performance Lab for use as part of the optional Part Three Contemporary Performance modules (FT3COA and FT3COB).


  • Develop student employability and professionalism through creative research, group work and proficiency in digital media.
  • Encourage sophisticated student engagement with the creative industries’ use of digital media.
  • Enable students to explore issues of performance through practical, creative experimentation.
  • Provide students with the means to experiment in a creative way in the Contemporary Performance module, and in their individual research projects.
  • Set up a Digital Performance Lab for use as part of Part Three Contemporary Performance modules.


The project to incorporate the use of tablet technologies into FT3COA and FT3COB grew out of a previous project which had experimented with the use of Bluetooth technologies. Much current experimental performance makes use of digital technologies, so it was imperative that students were provided with the opportunity to study this aspect of contemporary performance, and it was felt that the versatility of tablet technology would allow students to explore issues of performance through practical, creative experimentation.


To aid in the set up of the Digital Performance Lab, Dr Lisa Purse, who has expertise in the use of digital technology, acted as an adviser on the project.

The Department acquired seven 32 GB iPads and covers.  These were loaded with a number of appropriate apps, which were added to over the course of the academic year as familiarity with what was available increased, with students also making suggestions for apps that they had found useful.  Several connectors were also acquired for projects to allow the screening of several images simultaneously.

To allow them to make best use of the technology, students were trained in the basic use of the equipment and the apps most appropriate to the early stage of the work.  Once trained, students were able to use the tablets for a number of module-related activities, including:

  • Collecting material for class workshops.
  • Filming and editing material for multimedia experimentation
  • Accessing performances available via digital technologies in class workshop to assist in the analysis of performance
  • Developing individual and small group presentations.
  • Recording performances in class.
  • Experimenting with ways that tablet technology might enhance the experience of a performance for the audience.
  • Developing methodologies to enhance the documentation of performances.

In order to encourage the use of the tablets, their use was incorporated into some student assessments:

  • In Autumn Term all students were required to participate in a group assessment in which at least one iPad was used.
  • In Autumn Term all students were required to collect gestures, sounds, and potential performance sites using the visual and sound facilities of the tablets.
  • In Autumn and Spring Terms all students were required to give a presentation on a defined topic using an iPad.
  • In Spring Term all students were required to complete an application for arts funding on their iPad.
  • In Summer Term students had the opportunity to make use of the tablets as they wished in their final performance assessments.


On the whole the project exceeded plans. The project objectives were achieved and the tablets became an integral part of most seminars and workshops as students became more adept in manipulating the resource. As students became more confident in the use of tablets, they were able to use the technology in a sophisticated way to support their work, experimenting with functionality and this being disseminated across the group.

Student attainment on the module was high, and the use of the Digital Performance Lab contributed to this. Presentations in seminars improved as students became more adept in their use of presentational tools. Documentation and analysis of work was improved by the opportunity to capture and record practice in development. The Lab enhanced student experimentation with the potential of the digital in performance, and enabled greater understanding of the theories and practices that are central to contemporary performance art.


While it had been anticipated that the tablets would primarily be used for the Part Three Contemporary Performance modules, students also used tablets for the development of other areas of their study, in particular their Independent Projects.  Independent Project supervisors noted that students with access to this facility brought research for their performances to tutorials on their tablets which they could manipulate to demonstrate their ideas and plans in a very effective way.

The benefit of using tablet technology for the teaching and learning of Contemporary Performance was that it allowed students to get quick results: for eample, students found that they could create sound effects or add music for a performance piece in a matter of seconds. By opening up opportunities to students, tablet technologies enhanced their creativity.

Follow up

Since the conclusion of the project, the Digital Performance Lab has continued to be utilised for the delivery of the Contemporary Performance modules. Beyond the Contemporary Performance modules, tablet technology is now used across the Department of Film, Theatre and Television in a number of contexts, including use in interviews for prospective students, and in outreach events such as summer schools held within the Department. Student response to the use of tablet technology continues to be overwhelmingly positive.

Tablet technologies have also been used by students with Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Home Theatre project, in which University of Reading students work with artists from the Theatre Royal Stratford East to develop a show to be performed in the home of a London resident.

War Child on Screen

Dr Ute Wolfel, Literature and Languages
Year of activity: 2014/15


9412Finalist students from German, French and Italian organised a public film season of four films (German, French, Spanish, Italian) with Reading Film Theatre (RFT) on ‘Children in War’ to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The students chose the films, contacted the distributors, and helped with the actual screening but also researched the films and put together Film Notes that, together with an invitation letter, were sent to local secondary schools.


  • Encourage students to undertake independent research within the context of taught modules.
  • Enable the students to reach beyond university by using their knowledge in a public context.
  • Enable them to see the relevance of their academic learning and effort.
  • Allow them to gather practical experience within the wider field of their course by including them in the organisational work with RFT, distributors, the University of Reading’s Design & Print Studio, and local schools.


The project took place within the context of Dr Leavitt’s and Dr Wolfel’s research and finalist modules on World War II and War Cinema. Dr Leavitt and Dr Wolfel are specialists on the respective national cinemas and have worked on war films in particular. At the time of the project, Dr Wolfel was also principal investigator for a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant on ‘Children in German War (Con)Texts’.


Students and staff from the respective languages and modules were asked to join the project. A schedule was agreed by all and then students formed groups to watch and choose the films for the season. Students divided into working groups for the creation of Film Notes as well as organisational work such as liaising with distributors and RFT. The students in the various groups contributed researched information to the Film Notes and wrote them up together with staff; students also read the Film Notes’ proofs sent from Print & Design. Students as well as staff wrote an invitation letter for local secondary schools and sent it out. At the actual screenings students helped as ushers; for the German screening they also did part of the introduction to the film and helped with the following Q&A session.


The Film Season as a whole was a success. Out of the four films scheduled, three were actually shown and attracted very good audience numbers and lively discussions at the end. The students most engaged in the project, enjoyed the work as well as the success. They found the work undertaken useful and rewarding – if not always as easy and straightforward as anticipated – and were proud of having been involved in a public outreach event related to their actual studies.

While the initial response from secondary schools was enthusiastic, not all the schools that had booked seats came to the screenings. Those schools that attended, however, enjoyed the event and new perspectives offered. It was good to see that the film season attracted a good audience from the general public.


The project’s success was based on a small group of students’ engagement and diligence and also some of the staff’s willingness to work hard with those students. Were this was not given, the implementation would have been less successful. Some of the students participating felt less responsible for the work and were therefore less reliable. One of the reasons for this might have been that the group of students involved was initially too large and not all the students were equally interested in the topic. For such a work intensive project it seems, retrospectively, best to keep it smaller and the group closer together, perhaps within the context of one module or research project.