Engineering Project Round-Up and Review

It has now been two academic years since we embarked upon our Think Like an Engineer project, so what have we discovered along the way? It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey and teachers have had to learn new skills and fit the occasional Big Tinker and Engineering Day into their working week – so has it been worth the effort? Certainly, if you talk to the children, you would get a resounding ‘Yes’. This may not be enough though to encourage schools to take up the Engineering Habit of Mind (EHoM) mantle.

What we really need to do now at Rode Heath, is establish a clear way of monitoring the impact that this project is having. There is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence. Teachers have reported that they have noticed a marked improvement in resilience, particularly during the recent SATs tests. Children who have previously had a tendency to give up when faced with a problem have persevered and kept going. Indeed, our Year 6 SATs results this year have been excellent.

Another area of noticeable improvement is in the confidence with which our children address audiences, including adults. They are both articulate and knowledgeable, and always keen to present their ideas. This year’s Year 6 Public Speaking Contest winner, Gabrielle Goodwin, was noticeably quiet at beginning of Year 4 and preferred to stay in the background, rather than push herself forward. What a change over two years! I am convinced that being immersed in our various engineering activities and sharing her ideas with others, has effected this change.

Indeed, visitors to our school invariably comment on the knowledge that the children show, particularly the younger pupils in KS1. STEM ambassadors from BAE Systems, were recently astounded by the Year 1s suggestions for crossing a river, which ranged from building a zip wire to using a submarine.

Engineering in Reception

Although recording in the Log Books does not start until Year 1, the Reception children engage in all our engineering activities, and many of their own. This year, they have been studying the well known picture book – The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch – which lends itself to many opportunities for Creative Problem Solving. One of which, is how to prevent the seagulls from stealing the delicious lunch that Mrs Grinling sends her husband every day.

The children has already investigated ropes and pulleys to see how the lunch was transported. There next task was to design a seagull catcher.

To do this, they had to first draw their designs and then try them out. As you will see from the examples below, they had a great time doing it.

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So what do the children think?

At the end of this academic year, we sent out a questionnaire to the children in both KS1 and KS2, to try and get a measure of both their understanding of EHoM and their view of the project so far. Below is a copy of the KS2 survey, adapted from an idea developed by Bohunt School, in Liphook, Hampshire.

Engineering Evaluation

Two Y5 pupils, Daniel Smallwood and Samuel Pickering, asked if they could analyse the data as part of one of their maths lessons. They systematically went through each questionnaire (over 120 of them!), tallying the results and produced a series of graphs in Excel and a summary of their findings, which I have copied below.

Evaluation of Engineering in KS2 by Daniel Smallwood and Sam Pickering

Over the course of this amazing engineering project, children in KS2 have shown a clear improvement in Engineering Habits of Mind. These habits (EHoM) consist of systems thinking, improving, visualising, creative problem solving, problem finding and adapting.

The following findings are a result of our analysis of a questionnaire given out by Mrs Wiskow at the end of the school year.

In Year 3, the habit which was improved on the most was Systems Thinking, with 18% of the class feeling they had improved in this area the most. This area was improved upon the most because it is the most unique to engineering, so many of the children had never heard of it, never mind put it into practice.

In Year 4, the habit of mind improved upon the most was Visualising, with again 18% of the class feeling that they had improved in that are the most. During our research we concluded that this was probably to do with the fact that children often need to picture a design in engineering, and the practice has improved this area drastically.

In Year 5, the area improved upon the most is Problem Finding, with 22% of the class feeling this was the area that children had improved in. It is likely this is because this class go for ambitious designs at first – particularly with the 3D printing – and then fail and have to use this habit if mind to make their designs work.

In Year 6, the class showed that they improved on Improving the most, 21% saying that they improved that greatly. This was probably because improving is essential if you are to be a successful engineering, making it important to learn.

Overall KS2 improved on Systems Thinking and Improving the most, with 18% of children thinking that they improved the most for both habits.

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Some of the children’s responses to the question of  impact on learning make interesting reading:

“It makes you question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
“It’s made me more resilient, and more creative with my ideas.”
“It has inspired me to do new things and work harder.”
“It has made me more excited about learning.”
“It’s made me more comfortable with messing up in class.”
“It makes me think more deeply about questions, especially in maths.”
“It has made me look more closely at things to improve them.”
“I feel that it has made me realise that mistakes are important for learning.”

This September a number of schools in Cheshire East are taking on the Engineering Log books. We hope that the success that we are continuing to enjoy at Rode Heath will spur them on their journey.

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