How to organise a whole school Engineering Day

Teaching is definitely not for the faint-hearted. You need to be resilient and able to adapt to the constantly changing environment. It’s not always easy to be creative – sometimes you just need to work on a day-to-day basis to get through the ever-increasing workload.

At Rode Heath we have been trying over the past few years to encourage other schools to follow our lead and adopt engineering into the curriculum. We have found that it has had a real impact on the way children approach their learning in other areas – they become less afraid of failure; work more independently and express themselves confidently and articulately. Girls particularly have fared well.

However, finding a space for engineering in the already over-stretched curriculum is a big ask. It takes careful planning and time – something that teachers don’t always have. One way of doing this on a smaller scale is to hold a whole school Engineering Day.

And, with the summer term approaching, this could be something to think about after SATs when the timetable tends to be slightly freer.

So how do you approach this?

Firstly, you must think of a theme. We have held various days over the past few years, including Cardboard Hacking, Marble Runs, Kite Making & Flight with RAF Cosford. Last month, because of our involvement in this year’s Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge, we focused on re-purposing Plastic.

This is of course a very topical issue and so there were plenty of resources to call on. It is important though to show progression through the year groups so the activities for each class need to be carefully considered.

Make links

One way of ensuring that each class has something different and relevant to do is to try and link the activities to other areas of the curriculum – science, computing and DT being the obvious ones. For our plastics theme, we also managed to find a Literacy text for each class. This meant that teachers could build up to the Engineering Day by using Plastic as a focus in their Literacy lessons, if they wished. These titles ranged from fiction books such as Duffy’s Lucky Escape and Captain Green & the Plastic Scene through to non-fiction titles such as One Plastic Bag and Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s – The Circular Economy for Year 6

A copy of the plan for the event can be found here: Plastics Plan for Engineering Day

The idea is to make it as simple for teachers to engage with as possible. And, if they can tick off some of the objectives they have to cover in other areas of the curriculum, then even better.

Be prepared

Obviously, if you are going to be re-purposing plastic, then you need to decide well in advance what resources you need to acquire and where you are going to store them. Parents are usually very good at responding to such requests. It is probably best for each teacher to organise their own collection.

You also need to try and make items that are not going to be thrown away at the end of the day – this rather loses the purpose.

Involve the community

It is always useful to enlist outside help for the event itself, especially if you intend to spend part of the day building products. Parents can be surprisingly handy, though it is important that you decide in advance what job they will be doing.

Given enough warning, you will find that engineers are often willing to take part. We have developed a number of strong relationships with engineering companies over the past few years including Siemens, STFC and Cheshire East Highways.

There are numerous ways in which they can assist:

  • starting the day off taking part in a whole school assembly
  • demonstrating equipment
  • promoting their organisation
  • helping with activities
  • talking to children about what it means to be an engineer

In this case of our Plastics Day – we were lucky enough to have three engineers from Cheshire East Highways helping us out for the morning: Vicky, Jon and Maddison. Their contribution was particularly relevant to the theme as the organisation has started using recycled plastic bottles to create materials which are then reused in the construction of bridges. Jon brought some samples with him to show the children.

This material has recently been used in the construction of the new Wistaston Brook footbridge at Joey the Swan, which has been made with 100% recycled plastic planks.

During the course of the day, it was wonderful to be able to walk through the school and see the children so engaged in their activities. There was such a variety of learning going on. Children were cutting, sanding, fixing, programming and constructing – all with the same aim in mind, to re-purpose their plastic waste. The engineers played their part too, helping to drill holes in plastic lids and offering advice to the children were needed.

Activities ranged from catamaran building in Year 1; vertical gardens in Year 2, programming recycling trucks with Lego Wedo in Year 3; plaiting plastic bags to make skipping ropes in Year4,; constructing a Viking ship in Year 5 and designer planters in Year 6. Alongside this, the children learned about the damage that plastic is causing in the oceans; how to recognise symbols on plastic material; designed their own alternative materials and thought of ways to stop one use plastic items – all helped by some excellent BBC resources:

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