The IET Coventry and Warwickshire Network has developed the following Challenges In A Box for school teachers to use to assist in educating pupils of various ages. We are keen to have feedback and new ideas for these challenges.

Each challenge has visual aids and, where relevant, pupil guides and teacher guides.

Challenges In A Box are copyright © Derrick Willer.

However you are free to copy for use in schools and for instructing children of school age and for use by children of school age. Please feedback to: Derrick Willer,


However, I suggest that you give a small donation (e.g. £20, $30) to the Memusi Schools in remote Kenya so that they can install electricity and then get computers. Thank you.




Secondary Schools


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Burglar Alarm Secondary

An introduction to electrical circuits using low cost materials. About 30-60 minutes as individuals or small teams. I used this for a KS3 STEM Club (12-14 year olds) giving them a set of the same materials and challenging them to make the burglar alarm without any guidance whatsoever. Not even the concept of a trip wire.

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Table Tennis Ball Launcher

An IET Education challenge. We have 12 kits available for use in schools in Coventry and Warwickshire. (30 mins for basic launcher kit – up to 1½ hours for loader for the launcher made from recycled materials provided by the school) Email Derrick Willer for availability.

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Paper Catapult

Pupils in small teams are asked to design, budget and then make a catapult out of recycled paper. Recycled materials are free but nuts, bolts, elastic bands, sticky-tape, etc. cost money. They catapult a ball at a set of skittles three times, scoring a maximum of 89 points. Additional scores depend upon the accuracy of their budget and the innovative nature of their design. Suitable for pupils aged 10-15. (2½ hours)


Why Lag Your House?

A simple card based exercise for younger pupils to learn how insulating your home can improve heating and save on energy. Suitable for pupils aged 5-13. (60 mins)


A paper based exercise suitable for 7-13 year old pupils. Pupils make a bridge out of paper into a U" shape and find out how much weight (pennies or model cars) it will take with different depths of the "U" versus the remaining area for the bridge. They graph the results. The project is then extended to bridge the gap between two chairs with paper, sticky tape, etc. costing them "money"

e.g. cheapest to hold a 100gm weight wins. (30 mins)

Replacing The Family Car

Pupils should investigate the whole-life carbon footprint of a car using the internet. They should draw graphs pie-charts, etc. comparing buying a new car versus keeping the old one. Internet research, spreadsheets, etc. can be used and make this relevant to the challenge subject. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (Homework, 4+ hours)

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House Of Gadgets

For 9 - 13 year olds. An exercise to understand sustainability and conservation. Pupils imagine what will happen if rubbish is not collected. Then there is a short story about conservation. The pupils decide on a gadget to make and are given recycled materials to make a mock-up of it. (2½-3 hours)

Hydrogen As A Fuel

Hydrogen powered cars, etc. are already working at Birmingham and other universities. Pupils make hydrogen and oxygen and test them. They are then asked to work out the best place to make hydrogen using sunlight. They should work out the costs of transporting from source to point of use - including compressing/liquefying the gas. Internet research, graphs, spread-sheets, etc. can be used and make this relevant to the challenge subject. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (In-school experiment, 30 mins, Homework 4+ hours)

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Fan or Turbine Efficiency

Pupils should make a fan and work out its efficiency at various blade angles and numbers. A Design Council Project finalist utilised a boat propelled by the fan pulling against a weight suspended over a pulley. But pupils can use any other method. Project report with graphs, etc is required. Graphs, spreadsheets, etc. can be used and make this relevant to the challenge subject.

Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (12+ hours)

Paper Towers And Bridges

Versions for Primary and Secondary Schools. Approx. 30 – 60 minutes. Secondary school pupils in teams are judged on design, budgets, actual spend, and presentations.

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24 questions to tease the pupils, teachers and STEM Ambassadors complete with "Wrong" with explanation and the correct answers

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Card Tricks

What are the maths behind these three card tricks? Pupils can work alone or in small groups to discover how these card tricks work. Suitable for homework or for 45-60 minutes sessions. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (45-60 mins)

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A Dozen Ten Minute Challenges

Set of 13 (Baker’s Dozen) challenges each taking 5-10 minutes.

Another Dozen Ten Minute Challenges

Set of 13 (Baker’s Dozen) challenges each taking 5-10 minutes.

Robot Challenge

This project challenges teams to build a model robot from K’nex kits. Meccano or other construction kits.

It is aimed at pupils ages 10 to 14 (years 5 to 9). The project could also be used to introduce primary school pupils to their secondary school with "mentors" for each team from the secondary school.

It was first developed and run at Jaguar Cars Visitor’s facility at Castle Vale, Birmingham, with some 150 thirteen year old school pupils in teams of six. (1½ hours +) In the lunch period we were entertained by Prof. Carl Chinn MBE, the famous Birmingham local radio celebrity with some of the pupils and some teachers being interviewed on BBC West Midlands Radio.

We are indebted to Jaguar Cars and BBC West Midlands Radio and Prof. Carl Chinn MBE for their valued assistance.


Introduction To Computer Programming

Utilising the Basic programming language, pupils learn now to write and test a program initially to add, then to subtract, multiply and divide two numbers. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (1 hour +)

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Code and Decode

This project is aimed at learning more about programming by developing a computer program to code and decode a message. Pupils will be able secretly to send a coded text document attached to an email to a friend who, when given the correct key, will be able to decode the message in the text document. Alternatively they can save secret data in coded format. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (1½ hours +)

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Lets Crumble

Learn how to programme the Crumble computer. Then make a night-light or automated money-box using the Crumble kit and recycled materials. There are further challenges for traffic lights, car and maze, robot. Developed by DATA with grant aid from IET, IMencE and RAE

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Prime Numbers

This project is aimed at learning about programming by developing a computer program to test if a number is prime and then to extend this to list all prime numbers up to a given number. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16. (1 hour + )



Pythagorean Triangles

We all know that a 3,4,5 triangle is a right angled triangle, a Pythagorean Triangle. In this project pupils write a computer program to discover other whole-number Pythagorean Triangles up to a given length of the shortest side. Suitable for pupils aged 12-16.


Fun With Phiziks and Che Mystery

Ten activities including Fizzy Chemistry, Make a Thermometer, Magnifying Glass, Bending Water, Speed even though you are sitting still, Oxygenetics, Mento® Fountain, Why is Statue of Liberty Blue, Acceleration, Plastic Milk

BBC Micro:bit Traffic Lights

Using the new BBC Micro-bit and Python code to manage a single traffic light, then a Cross Roads set, finally to make the traffic lights using recycled materials. The problem to solve (with an answer) is that there are four states for the Cross Road Traffic Lights and only three outputs from the BBC Micro-bit. The example uses a relay to turn off green lights when the yellow ones are on.


Funny Maths

Exploring some unusual arithmetic, geometry, etc. used by ourselves and maybe, aliens. Using Thales Theorem, Hippocrates of  Chios, Mesolab Compass, multiplying using your hands and unusual multiplication by some other races.

The Safety Deposit Vault

This project is based on a real spread-sheet for a company in Birmingham. The spread-sheet is complex and must be mail- merged with invoices and overdue letters in a word-processor. Suitable for pupils aged 14-18. There is a model answer. An extension is to utilise a database such as MS Access - this is very relevant to the challenge subject. (1 hour + )

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Microsoft Access Tutorial My Holiday Home

This tutorial provides detailed instructions on creating a Microsoft Access database using an example that manages the lettings of a holiday villa in France or Spain.

It will provide students with an in-depth understanding of MS Acess and an ability to design and construct their own databases to benefit themselves and their employers.

Each stage is detailed in minute detail to guide the student through to a completed database. The tutorial starts with creating the database, adding Tables for customer Names and Bookings. Then Queries to enable us to combine tables and sort into sequence.
Data is added to the tables and queries so that we can see the data on subsequent forms. We then create Forms into which we can input or change the data, including an opening Menu which is displayed using an opening Macro. The tutorial continues by explaining the IIF function and others and utilises these to create a diary with the bookings shown in a weekly timetable. We also cover the design of a printout.

Students can proceed at their own pace but the typical minimum time for the entire tutorial is of the order of six to eight hours, however some can be completed as "homework". The tutorial requires downloading Microsoft Access 2013 or later versions.

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Tricky Mathematics

20 Maths questions to confuse the pupils, teachers and STEM Ambassadors

More Funny Maths

Triangles, marbles, weighing, always 1089, letters represent numbers, odd x even = ? and more

Gravity Egg Drop

Using raw eggs the teams have to make a cradle to hold the egg and protect the egg when it is dropped from height. For younger ones you may want to use boiled eggs. Teams should consider safety, strength, crumple zone, what happens if the cradle turns upside-down, etc.

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Levers and Pulleys

Levers with up to ten to one mechanical advantage, and visa versa. One to four pulleys with up to four-to-one mechanical advantage.

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Several samples to weigh and measure their volume using a graduated test-tube or jug. Plus you can add your own samples – maybe pebble, concrete, plastic, potato, carrot, cheese

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Even More Funny Maths

Apples and bags, twins? Ladder and tide, Hare and tortoise, Polar Bear. Alien money, and more

Car Crash

An exercise to discover that cars have crumple zones to keep passengers safe from crashes.

The pupils are asked to construct a car from available materials and work out how to protect the passengers and also have crumple zones front and back.

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More Tricky Maths

More Maths questions to confuse the pupils, teachers and STEM Ambassadors

Make a Thermometer

Make a thermometer out of a drinks bottle, a straw, alcohol and water.

Animals in Danger

Ten examples of endangered animals. What are they? Where do they live? What do the eat? And What is the danger?

Make a Barometer

Make a barometer using a jam jar and a record on graph paper

Measure Wind Speed

Make an anemometer and measure wind speed. Compare to weather forecasts to obtain a conversion factor between revolutions per minute and published wind speed.

The Water Cycle

An experiment to show the water cycle – evaporation  and condensation.

Compressed Air Car

Make a model car from recycled materials and use compressed air to race it cross the playground

Compressed Air Plane

Make a model plane from recycled materials and use compressed air to fly it across the playground

Tricky Logic

Ten questions where the logic may not be obvious.

More Tricky Logic

Ten more questions where the logic may not be obvious.

Solve an XXX Division Sum

You have a division sum where crosses represent numbers and just a few actual numbers are shown. Can you solve the sum?