This week, the government announced that 2018 will be the Year of Engineering: a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding of what engineers do, among young people aged 7-16, their parents and their teachers. This presented an excellent opportunity for us to promote the huge role that engineering plays in society and the benefits of teaching our children to adopt the skills that engineers use in their day to day tasks.
With this in mind, on Thursday night, we held an Engineering Twilight for Cheshire East schools to share the work we have been doing at Rode Heath with our Think Like an Engineer project. The evening focused around introducing the concept of Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoM) and how we have introduced them into our curriculum through our Engineering Log books.
As the night was all about the impact the project has had on our children, the event started off with an excellent presentation by Daniel Smallwood and Ellie Jepson, entitled “From paperclips to spaceships.” They talked about what engineering meant to them and how using EHoM has helped their learning.
Much to our delight, the evening was very well attended, with a mixture of 32 Heads and teachers from 14 different schools. We were also pleased to welcome representatives from the Civil Engineering company Jacobs Ringway, the Skills & Growth organisation and the Crewe Pledge.
The State of Engineering
In the latest Engineering UK Report on the state of engineering in the UK, it has been estimated that we will need 186,000 skilled entrants to meet the demand for engineering enterprises up to 2024. Most effort seems to be currently focused on secondary students, but it is at primary level that children’s enthusiasms and passions need to be captured and channelled.
The Engineering Habits of Mind developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014 are key skills for learning and it is these habits that we have been encouraging our children to adopt at Rode Heath.
Undoubtedly, there will be scepticism as to how, yet another subject can be squeezed into the already overcrowded curriculum; however, the beauty of Engineering is that is not only offers the opportunity to reinforce content, but allows children to develop mastery in a subject by applying their knowledge. Engineering Habits of Mind allow children to develop higher order thinking skills. When they are engineering they have moved from merely remembering and understanding to applying and ultimately creating.
We know that children learn best when they are actively involved in their learning. And, learning is most valuable when children are designing, building and making something. Schools generally do this well in Reception, but it seems to tailor off as children move up the school and priorities change.
At Rode Heath, we believe in offering children an environment where, through purposeful engineering activities, they experience hands-on application of concepts learned in other subjects. Our Twilight session allowed our pupils to share many of the skills that they have developed over the past academic year as a result of our commitment to Engineering. These ranged from using a range of micro-computers (Lego Wedo, Crumble Controllers, CodeBugs and Micro:bits) to learning about gears, levers and hydraulics with K’nex.
In the middle area of the school, teachers were treated to a demonstration of how to link Engineering to Literacy: giving children the chance to solve the problems faced by characters in their stories using an engineering solution – sometimes with a finished product (using 3D printing), but more often that not with a visualisation of their ideas.
Engineering links to science and D&T were also on display. The Scribble-Bots proved very popular with the teachers, and we had to quickly discourage our children from giving away too many motors.
Not to be outdone, in the corner loomed the Reception dinosaur, complete with pulley system and bucket – (well how else does a small child feed a dinosaur?). According to Mrs Woollam, this is a favourite activity of the children, who often spend more than 45 minutes at a time tackling the problem; refusing to give up, until they have worked out how to successfully set up the pulley.
At the end of the evening, the event was hailed to be a great success, with teachers impressed both by the confidence and eloquence of our children, and the quality of work in their books – particularly KS1.
We are hoping that this positive response will result in some of these schools taking up our offer of workshops, designed to start them on their Engineering journey.
We know that it works. The impact on our children over the past year has been palpable – increased resilience; increased imagination; increased belief in what they can achieve.
By promoting Engineering Habits of Mind as a way of learning, we are providing our pupils with skills that they will need for the careers of the future.
And, as educators, this should most definitely be our goal.