STEM Learning Programme

There are endless STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) learning opportunities along our canals and rivers, from understanding biological habitats to calculating the physics of water management. Watch our short film to see Ellowes Hall School demonstrating how water pressure is used in engineering lock design.

Our STEM learning programme aims to inspire Key Stage 3 students using real-life examples from along our waterways. Developed with support from the Rolls Royce Graduate Scheme, our exciting activities will bring STEM to life in your classroom!

Earn a CREST award with our STEM programme!

The CREST Awards scheme is the British Science Association’s flagship programme for young people, around 40,000 students in the UK gain CREST Awards every year. It is the only nationally recognised accreditation scheme for STEM project work (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, providing science enrichment activities to inspire and engage 5-to-19-year olds.

Students can earn a Bronze CREST award by completing our Canal & River Maintenance activity and 10 hours of further work. The award can be started with a visit from our STEM Ambassadors, completed in the students’ own time, in classes or in STEM clubs, and completed by a presentation to Canal & River Trust personnel

Find out more about the award here.

Building a canal crane


All of our activities last about an hour (with extension work also available) and engage students in a hands-on, practical way about different aspects of canal design, use and maintenance.

Lock Design

Download the activity pack and powerpoint presentation.

Principles of lock design are explained by learning about water pressure and the effect it has on how water drains. There is a demonstration on water pressure, leading to the students completing an investigation using graphs of varying pressure.


Water pressure, formulating hypotheses, understanding materials.

Gauging Rod

Download the activity pack and powerpoint presentation.

Students learn about the historical use of gauging rods and why they were required, by understanding the effect of weight on canal boats. This is done through an activity where they can experiment with different weights on boats, and understand boat design.


Pressure in liquids, upthrust, opposing forces.

Boat Lift

Students can learn about hydraulic systems and how they are used to power boat lifts. This includes a practical investigation on hydraulic pressure and experimenting with a hydraulic crane.


Studying forces, pressure in liquids, rearranging mathematical equations.

Canal & River Maintenance

Students can learn about erosion and the causes of it within waterways, with a demonstration of erosion protection using actual canal bank protection methods, as well as learning about water quality and doing some pH testing on water.


Understanding the pH scale, forces and environments they affect, understanding different design methods, learning about river processes.

Canal Crane

This is a very practical activity on the design and building of canal cranes. Students learn about gear trains and understanding mechanical advantages, and then build canal crane models which they can experiment with to understand the most efficient way of using gears.


How mechanical systems work, understanding air resistance and friction, working with different units of measure.

STEM Ambassador Scheme

Our STEM Ambassadors are eager to inspire your students about this quickly emerging field. Working in STEM roles at the Canal & River Trust, they are passionate about it as a career path and are ready and waiting to deliver outreach in your school. This can include talks or our specific STEM activities outlined above.