Renewable Energy at Rode Heath

What an amazing time we had at Rode Heath. Our normal routines stopped as we all focused on Engineering activities for the day. Although we aim to incorporate engineering into our everyday curriculum these whole school days are very important as they allow children more time to develop their skills. They also offer an excellent means of sharing the work done across the school. And, even though the topics were very similar the progression in learning could clearly be seen.

The theme for this Engineering Day was renewable energy. This was a very apt continuation of our previous theme of plastic pollution. We started the day talking about sustainable development and how we can help to protect our planet. This led to a brief look at the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which Number 7 – Affordable & Clean Energy – was our target for the day.

Although the focus amongst the year groups was mainly on water and wind power; it was amazing to see the variety of different approaches taken by the teachers.

Having moved ping pong balls successfully down an arrangement of water chutes, Reception children set about making dam to contain their booty.

In Year 1, the challenge was use wind power to propel Supertato from one side of a river to another. Linking engineering to Literacy texts is something that we do very well at Rode Heath – with the bonus that it brings the story alive for children.

There was plenty of excellent questioning going on:

  • Where on the mast should the sail be positioned?
  • How would this effect the balance of the boat?
  • How big should the sail be?
  • Would bigger sails make the boat move faster?

The children were given a foam block to stick their mast into. It was up to them whereabouts in the boat to place their block.

In Year 2, the children were making wind turbines out of cardboard tubes and testing them with a hairdryer. This was to make sure that the test was fair, as it was pointed out that some people might have more puff than others!

In the afternoon they exchanged their paper blades for tin foil dishes and created water wheels – allowing many D&T skills to be covered.

In Year 3 the theme was also wind turbines but this time the children were focusing on the shape of the blades and asking the question: ‘Which combination would be the most effective at capturing the wind?’

Mr Randall had gone to town as usual and had built a K’nex model with his son, Benji, to demonstrate how wind could be used to power an LED. Generating enough wind by manually blowing proved quite difficult, so Mr Randall used his finger to get the blades going – not sure whether that is cheating, but it definitely illustrated the principle. Glad to see the class fan being used later, though – bet that was the children’s idea!

When I walked into Year 4, I was delighted to see them exploring hydropower by constructing a water wheel, which was powered by a jet of water streaming from a plastic bottle.

The design was quite intricate and had required the Year 4s to do some planning – using ‘visualising’, one of the Engineering Habits of Mind we talk about at Rode Heath. Evidence of this was their annotated diagram drawn in the Engineering Log books. Considerable skill also went into thinking how the different elements would fix together and the impact that the water would have on the glue. There was certainly much resilience needed. Fortunately, we had a parent volunteer to help out with the glue gun.

In Year 5, hydropower was also the theme. The question being asked was: How can hydropower be used to lift an object? The key to this activity was thinking about the shape of the plastic blades and their position on the cork. Children whose blades were more curved were more successful. It was also important to make sure that all the blades were facing the same way. The device was powered using the tap in the classroom. Prototypes were tested and improved.

Successful products were able to lift small objects.

The atmosphere in the classrooms is always engaging. Children are eager for their designs to work effectively. And, it is wonderful to see those children excel who are not always as academically gifted as others.

My final visit was to Year 6, who had also taken on the hydropower theme. Mr Scott had hoped to use his geography expertise to carry out a geothermal activity; however, it was felt that generating enough steam would be both tricky and most likely too much of a hazard! As the key was for children to be hands-on, they looked at the effect of low and high tides and created some very interesting examples of how this type of force could be harnessed.

At the end of the day we all came together in the hall to share our experiences. As well as the amazing array of devices, what impressed me was the confidence and eloquence with which the children explained what they had been learning and how their mechanisms worked – from Reception up to Year 6. Every presentation was different and built upon the previous work. It was clear to see, in a snapshot, the progression of learning across the year groups.

Ofsted are now very keen on teachers ensuring that their pupils retain knowledge – ‘sticky learning’ is the phrase often used. This whole day ‘hands-on’ approach surely goes a way to achieving this.

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