How to incorporate Meccano into STEM lesson planning


Meccano is a model construction system made up of metal strips, wheels, axles, gears, and parts that can be connected using real nuts and bolts to make a range of trucks, motorbikes, tractors, race cars and other vehicles.

It was created in 1898 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool, England, making it one of the oldest construction systems in the world.

Steve Jobs apparently credited it with influencing his whole career by getting him excited about the limitless possibilities of what humans can achieve.

To this day, Meccano is a great tool for inspiring young would-be builders to bring their inventions to life, with the ability to design simple structures or more sophisticated models using high-tech robotics and computer programming.

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For teachers, it’s potentially a creative way to incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) into classroom learning as an introduction to basic engineering principles.

Meccano classroom case studies

In 2018, Canberra’s School Volunteers Project ACT chose Meccano for an initiative to engage with students. The program recruits volunteer mentors to spend an hour each week , offering one-on-one support to struggling students. The goal was to improve their skills and gaining confidence.

Retired electrical engineer Bob Greeney lead the Meccano team, recruiting and training them to help at 35 schools around the capital.

“They start with a briefcase full of 650 pieces of Meccano and end up with a crane, robot, motor car or whatever,” he was quoted as saying in an online article about the project.

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Championing it as a way of learning patience, persistence, and diagram reading, and improving motor skills (thanks to the tiny nuts and bolts), counting ability, and spatial awareness.

“When they realise that another kid in the group is building something that looks the same but is not quite the same, they talk too,” Mr Greeney said.

“By the time they finish building the model, which is about eight weeks, they want to compete. It may have a little electric motor, so they want to race or lift something off the floor.

“And when they finish it they demonstrate it to the class or an assembly. Then they have to come back and take it all apart and put it back in the box. So they start the job and they finish the job.”

My Greeney adds that parents and teachers reported seeing these new skills then applied to other subjects. 

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Opportunities for creative STEM learning  

Meccano building sets provide a hands-on experience for students to build bridges, towers and other structures, allowing them to work through understanding the engineering principles of structural stability, load-bearing, and mechanical movements.

It can also be used to demonstrate simple machinery like levers, gears, pulleys, and wheels. Students can then build and experiment with different configurations to see how they work and get a bird’s eye perspective of how these mechanisms can be applied in other areas of everyday life.

Meccano robotics and circuitry

The Meccano system includes robotic sets that allow students to build and program their own robots. Educators can introduce basic programming and guide students in coding the robots’ movements and actions for hands-on experience with robotics and automation that can nurture creativity, advanced problem-solving, and practical critical thinking skills.

Meccano sets also include motor, lights, and switch components which can be incorporated into lessons on basic circuitry, electronics, and troubleshooting through building and wire circuitry. Elements that make it a handy toolkit to dip into when encouraging creative thinking and innovation in a classroom environment.

Meccano school clubs and programs 

In 2020, probably driven by pandemic lockdowns, Meccano launched a free school program sending out tubs of Meccano along with printed teacher packs, classroom posters, competition leaflets, ready-to-use lesson plans, activity sheets, a PowerPoint Presentation, and downloadable pupil certificates.

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The program is currently on hold but, as a concept, after-school and lunchtime Meccano clubs are still hugely popular at UK and US primary schools.

Within Australia, Macquarie Primary School ran a one-off special day program and Merimbula Public School ran a successful Meccano-themed Breakfast Club, with certificates given on completion.

Educators interested in launching their own program could start by assigning set design challenges, where students have to build a structure or machine to solve a specific problem. It’s an activity that adds competitive and teamwork elements, along with the many skills and benefits those dynamics bring to the workbench.

The Melbourne Meccano Exhibition

On Saturday, 14 October 2023, the annual Melbourne Meccano Exhibition takes place at Brighton Philatelic Society premises in Gardenvale.  The exhibition is set to fill both halls with “eye-catching, colourful Meccano creations”.

As well as the STEM learning benefits, Meccano’s construction-based nature allows for the development of math skills, scientific method and inquiry, self-sufficient working, team collaboration and communication skills. This means educators can confidently employ it to engage students with active learning, while staying closely aligned with curriculum objectives and learning goals – and it seems the fan base loyal, thriving and set for growth in Australia.

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By Charlie
Charlie Writes is a Sydney based, London born, Caribbean writer, interviewer and poet. A colourful 27 year career has taken Charlie from typing poems on the spot on her 1970’s typerwiter named June, to donning a hard hat as a roving reporter in the construction industry. All while living out her favourite quote that the greatest adventures begin with a simple conversation.