Some people think that we should focus our attention on teaching children how to use computers to visualise and imagine. After all, this is what they are going to be using in the real world. And, indeed there is a place for this, but perhaps not in primary where we should be concentrating on activities that involve hands-on making.
Before attempting to design on a flat screen, children need to recognise how things work. They need to deal with the concrete, rather than the abstract. They need to have practical experience of touching different materials; appreciating what they feel like; understanding what it is like to work with wood as opposed to cardboard. We need to teach them how to cut and stick things together. It is very difficult to imagine friction on a computer – you have to feel it for yourself.
In a recent BBC News article, Roger Kneebone (yes really!), professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, reported that he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade – which he says is a problem for surgeons, who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge.
He has found that that his students have spent so much time in front of screens and so little time using their hands that they have lost their ability to stitch or sew up patients.
Focusing on a creative curriculum
At Rode Heath we believe in offering a much more rounded education, with a focus on creativity and problem solving – a curriculum which involves our pupils learning to use their hands as well as their brains. That’s why every term we hold a whole school Engineering Day where we invite parents and engineers to take part in a building project, working alongside their children. This term the theme was flight and we invited members of RAF Cosford to help us construct and launch gliders to prepare us for this year’s ‘Fly to the Line’ competition, run by the RAF Cosford Museum & The Learning Partnership.
We were very lucky to persuade two Chief Technicians, Lee Betts and Leon Towns from 238 Squadron, to visit the school and teach the children about the theory of flight, whilst giving tips on how to balance and improve their gliders.
The morning in KS2 was spent making and testing paper planes, whilst parent helpers cut out the glider templates. As there were 40 gliders to be made in all, this was no mean task.
It did however work out well, as the polystyrene proved quite challenging and it was too much of a risk for the children use the craft knives.
Indeed as the templates were fixed, the children’s learning came from assembling and balancing of the planes. This was achieved using a mixture of Blu-tack and pennies – a 2p coin fixed to the nose proved ideal.
Testing and Improving
It was then outside to test and modify. It soon became clear that the wings needed to be fixed to the fuselage in some way; otherwise they quickly lost their alignment and were in danger of becoming crushed due to the force of the landings. This was quickly remedied with a few strategically placed pieces of masking tape.
Year 3 decorated their gliders with the RAF logo and tested them out in the classroom with Mr Randall’s special loom band launcher.
It looks pretty impressive in slow motion . . . .
After lunch it was time for the gliders to be launched in the hall. All the teams were very excited – whose glider would travel the furthest? To make the competition fair, all the gliders were launched from the same piece of equipment – a sophisticated gutter-based launcher conceived and built by Mrs Wiskow’s husband, Dorian.
RAF Cosford have been so impressed by its engineering design – particularly the fact that you can launch the gliders over and over again at the same force, thereby making the competition fairer and more scientific – they have commissioned five to be built for the Museum.
During the launch, the gliders flew surprisingly well – some straighter than others, it has to be said. The less successful flights tended to have a problem with their balance point – not enough weight in the nose so they tipped up and landed on the tail. This was particularly true of some of the Year 3 gliders. In securing the tail to the fuselage, they had used a considerable amount of hot glue, which had a huge impact on the weight of the glider, making it very tail heavy. Even a large amount of added Blu-tack on the nose was often not enough to balance them.
In the end, it was the Y6 girls who triumphed with their Flying Duchess achieving a distance of over 12 metres. Well done girls.
KS1 and Foundation activities
So what was happening lower down the school? After all, this was billed as a whole school Engineering Day. Well our younger pupils did not disappoint with the engineering skills. Although they were not involved in building the polystyrene gliders, they were certainly learning about how things fly.
In Year 2, Miss Moss started the day teaching the children about balancing points with her robots. The challenge was to balance them on a point – such as a finger, or a piece of string.
This was closely followed by making parachutes to deliver a package of chocolates – all linked in with their class text, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – aligned with our aim of embedding Engineering Habits of Mind across the curriculum at Rode Heath. There was lots of investigating going on – what would be the impact of using one string or more? Would the parachute even open? Which parachute would be the slowest to glide to the ground?
Super Heroes in Year 1
Year 1 chose to link their activities with their topic of Super Heroes. They have been reading Supertato and this presented an excellent opportunity to make Super Hero gliders – of course.
But perhaps the overall prize should go to Miss Scott – who actually came dressed as a plane. Who could ask for anything more?
A massive ‘Thank You’ to all the parents and visitors who made this event so special.
Can’t wait for the spring term and our next Engineering Day . . .