Making content ‘sticky’

Recently we had a visit from five Ofsted inspectors – not an official inspection but an opportunity for them to trial their latest inspection framework. Nevertheless, it was quite an intensive experience. One of the interesting points to emerge over the two days was that of ‘sticky content’. How can we as practitioners ensure that children remember what they have been taught in previous years? How can we effectively make content stick?

For children to retain all the information they have been taught over the years is quite an ask. Children tend to remember what they are particularly interested in – which surely can’t be everything. If you are continually revisiting previous learning, then you run the risk of running out of time to teach new facts, so what’s the answer?

Providing a learning experience that is both engaging and memorable is a key factor. And, perhaps more importantly, giving children the opportunity to apply their learning in real world contexts by designing, building and creating. It is a well known fact that children learn best when they are actively involved in the decision making.

Much of this can be achieved through the integration of engineering into topics that are already being taught. Perhaps a good place to start is science, from which engineers draw knowledge to inform their designs. By creating a series of end of topic activities which ask children to apply concepts they have been learning in science we are naturally reinforcing their understanding. These might include: designing a maglev train system (Y3 magnets); a burglar alarm (Y6 electricity); or designing a hand pollinator (Y2 plants).

This is something that we are going to be working on at Rode Heath from September, taking our inspiration from the award winning American STEM curriculum Engineering is Elementary –

What we want to avoid above all is the introduction of more testing. Although these activities are a form of assessment, they will relate to the real world and provide a means of using science and mathematical knowledge in authentic ways.

The Impact of Engineering at Rode Heath

I had the opportunity at the end of the summer term to talk to a couple of Year 6 girls about their engineering journey at Rode Heath. It is now three years since we started using the log books and both Ellie and Rebecca were in my Y4 class when we launched our Think Like an Engineer project. That’s plenty of time to gauge whether our efforts have been successful.

Here they are talking about one of their latest projects:

And reflecting on their log books:

Of course, we also have children who started engineering in Reception three years ago and are now at the end of KS1. You will notice from this interview with Jack (Y2) that there is much reflection on learning.

Year 5 – Robot Challenge Day

I can’t believe we are nearly at the end of another school year and one which has yet again been packed full of engineering at Rode Heath. I have decided this month to let our pupils take a turn at writing – after all, good communication skills are essential if engineers wish to share their ideas with a wider audience.

To set the scene: the Year 5s are currently studying the topic of Space in science and were investigating robotic arms. One of our parents, Mr Northwood, happened to work in robotics and offered to come in to talk about his job.

Over to Liliana and Alfie . . .

“First, we had a task to balance one book or more on the back of our hands to show if there was friction. At this point, we all felt excited and ready to learn more. To help out in space, scientists have used robotic arms for many years. Space doesn’t just include science and engineering it also includes maths and especially biomimicry, which is the design and production of materials, structures and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes.

Our next challenge was to make robotic arms out of lollipop sticks, plastic cups and sponges. Some groups were very successful as they managed to pick up a ping pong ball multiple times. Did you know the closest planets to Earth are Venus and Mars?

Then a robot expert called Mr Northwood came in. He works for Peak Analysis and Automation Ltd UK – (PAA) – which provides state-of-the-art automation technology to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

He told us some of the names of different robots such as: 6 axis robot, scara robot, anthropomorphic robot, tripod robot and S-LAB robot. The anthropomorphic robot acts like a human and basically does everything the same. Did you know that the tripod robot is the fastest robot in the world?  Also the word ‘robota’ comes from the Czech language meaning forced labour. We then received a microtiter plate each, which is a tub of lots of little holes that you put chemicals in and it makes a new medicine. The chemicals mimic a reaction that takes place inside the body and the medicine will stop it. If it does, the medicine will work on humans, if not you come up with a different medicine and retest. This is called Life Science and it can cost approximately £1,000,000,000 to make a new medicine.

We then got to see a robot grabber in action. This robot was very delicate and efficient. One day there might even be a robot which does your homework (not approved by us and the teachers). Next we saw robots such as: a jellyfish robot, a crab robot, a butterfly robot, a kangaroo robot, a gymnast robot and a bat robot.

Afterwards, we watched some videos about some robots falling over. We were laughing our heads off!”


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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GMEC 19 Pupil Challenge Day

Yesterday was the GMEC19 Pupil Challenge Day at Manchester University. This was the culmination of all the engineering tasks that schools have been working on over the past couple of months. Nobody except the event organisers knew what to expect. What were going to be our final challenges? What categories would they fall into? Would we be prepared?

These were the questions going through the minds of our six Year 5 pupils as they travelled on the train to Piccadilly station. Their excitement was palpable – it’s just a shame that we had to leave the rest of the class behind.

Fortunately, at Rode Heath, we make sure that every child has the opportunity to engage with engineering on a regular basis. We not only hold termly whole school Engineering Days and half-term Big Tinkers, but teachers actively plan engineering into their every day curriculum.


On arrival at Manchester University, we were led into the Great Hall where a sea of animated children met our eyes. There were some familiar faces, but many of the participants were new to the process – great news for the development of engineering in the primary sector.

In fact, there were so many schools present, that following an introduction on recycling plastic by Professor Lin Li, half of us trooped to the floor below to await our instructions.

Imagine & Plan

The first task was to design a solution for the problem of air pollution. It was amazing to see the creativity and diversity of ideas emerging.

Rode Heath pupils chose to go down the safety route, with a Fitbit type watch which alerted its wearer, via Bluetooth, when the risk of air pollution was high. As well as the band vibrating, the product included a badge which changed from green to amber to red, depending on the level of air pollution in the area. Once alerted, the person could then put on a face mask to protect themselves from the fumes. The badge was designed to warn other people of the dangers.

They chose a very apt name – Air Alert – which they changed to Awair Alert (deliberately misspelled) to fit in with their presentation.

Considering the children only had 30 minutes to come up with an idea; sketch and label their concept and create a presentation, there were some magnificent contributions in the room, including our own Rode Heath offering which you can see below:

Create & Improve

We knew this would have something to do with plastic, as we had been asked to bring a bag full; however the theme of the creation was only revealed in the afternoon – build a product to help young people in school feel less lonely.

This was something that we had been looking at in our small Year 5 group and had thought about creating an App, which would give helpful hints to children experiencing loneliness. Indeed, intrepid Isaac had even developed some prototype screens using Scratch.

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Unfortunately, this didn’t particularly help with ideas for the plastic challenge and it took a number of suggestions from making homes to attract hedgehogs into the garden to manufacturing bird feeders or plant bottle gardens, before a robot pet was finally settled upon.

Once a design had been formulated, the children set about collecting suitable components for the build. Everyone had responded very enthusiastically to the call for recycled plastic and there was a veritable mountain to choose from. In addition, the University had provided various electronic equipment, including light bulbs, batteries, motors and wires – and fixing materials, all of which the Year 5s made good use of.

Time was very short and it was touch and go as to whether we would even finish. There was certainly a great deal of trouble trying to fix all the electronics onto the bottle – the masking tape was definitely not very cooperative. We probably should have opted for the glue gun. Anyway, after a massive final push, which involved white tack, elastic bands and a good deal of perseverance – the robot pet was born:

There were some amazing and innovative ideas throughout the room. It was wonderful to see children so animated and creative. I hope that schools around the country have a go at these challenges too. I can’t wait to see children’s work uploaded onto social media. Who knows what might be invented?

If you haven’t already done so, visit the GMEC19 website and download the Challenge resources:

Make sure your school doesn’t miss out on this exciting opportunity!



Preparing for GMEC19

I thought I would share with you the work we have been doing in Year 5 to prepare for this year’s Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge. The format has changed from last year and now focuses more on developing skills through engaging children in the Engineering Design Process and introducing Engineering Habits of Mind – the characteristics that engineers use in their day to day jobs.

The theme is ‘Engineering Improves Lives’ and there are five key topics:

  • plastics
  • air pollution
  • homelessness
  • dementia
  • loneliness

These have been specifically chosen as they appear to be subjects which  are more likely to engage girls in engineering, as they include a social responsibility aspect.

Any school can take part by signing up at the following link:

A series of excellent resources are available to download from the website:

A couple of weeks ago I tried out the Imagine & Plan session with our Year 5s at Rode Heath. To keep things simple, I just focused on the topic of Homelessness. After a brief discussion around the topic the children were given a picture of a homeless person and asked to think about the problems they might face .

There was a real buzz around the room with some very interesting ideas being aired amongst the groups. I was particularly struck by the thought that getting to sleep would be quite difficult as there would be a lot of noise and light from nearby traffic – something I had not thought of.

The children were then asked to pick some of the problems and try and come up with potential products that might solve them.

Again, the children were extremely animated and generated some interesting ideas. There was such an eagerness to share that we ran out of time and had to organise another session for the following week.

This actually worked out extremely well, as it transpired that Charlotte’s mother worked with the homeless in Stoke so we quickly arranged for her to come in and talk to us about her role. It is always worth asking if parents have relevant knowledge they can share. In my experience they are generally very willing to come into school and talk to children. It certainly adds weight to your lesson and, in Mrs Millns’ case, she was able to use her experience to judge and provide valuable feedback on the children’s ideas.

The next step was for the children to choose their best idea and then design a product around it. This involved not only visualising the solution but coming up with a presentation to promote the product to Mrs Millns and the rest of the class.

Isaac – super enthusiastic as ever – had brought in a prototype of his design from the previous week:

Liliana had also worked on a design at home:


As a final exercise – in order to try and make it easier to choose children to take to the event in Manchester and to have a record for the Log Books  – I set them some homework. They were to refine their ideas on a planning sheet.

Here are a few examples:

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Who to choose?




Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge (GMEC19)

Learning should always be about having fun. If children are engaged in their lessons, then they are much more likely to remember what they are being taught. A great way to embed learning is to provide children with hands-on activities – to challenge them to solve a problem by visualising, designing and making something – which is why, at Rode Heath, we base our lessons around Engineering Habits of Mind (EHOM).

And, with OFSTED encouraging schools to offer a ‘broad, rich and deep’ curriculum, now is an ideal time to take up the engineering mantle. An excellent way of doing this would be to take part in this year’s Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge (GMEC19).

Yesterday saw the launch of the third Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge (GMEC19) – sponsored by the IET and IMechE – with an immersion event for teachers across the Greater Manchester area. This is something that Rode Heath has been involved with since its inception in 2017 – first with the excellent Robot Orchestra and last year with the Marble Run Challenge. Indeed, it is Rode Heath’s engagement with the Robot Orchestra that started us on our amazing engineering journey.

Each year, I have personally become more involved in the projects and this year I was asked to develop and lead two of the sessions with Ainsley Moseley from Bowker Vale Primary.

So, what is GMEC19?

GMEC19 is open to all primary schools. Designed and run by the University of Manchester’s Science and Engineering Education Research Innovation Hub (SEERIH), it is aimed at pupils between the ages of 7 and 13, so KS3 pupils can take part too. This year the key message is ‘Engineering Improves Lives’ and comprises a series of activities focusing around five themes: air pollution, plastic, homelessness, dementia and loneliness. These topics have been specifically chosen as they are issues which impact society and the environment. More significantly, research indicates that engaging in engineering activities which involve social responsibility is a way of encouraging girls into the discipline.

Activities are all based around the Engineering Design Process and encourage children to use the six Engineering Habits of Mind as a way of working.






Register your school now

If you are interested in motivating your pupils and developing a more creative, hands-on curriculum in your school, then you should definitely consider registering for this event:

It’s completely free, there are simple lesson plans to follow and the impact on your pupils will be hugely positive.

For an overview of GMEC19 you can follow this link to the Intro Film:

There will be an additional briefing video launched on Tuesday 5th February.

The Immersion Day

The day kicked off with the excellent Lea Jagendorf from Fixperts ( who challenged the teachers to use their imagination and skills to create ingenious solutions for everyday problems that real people face.

These problems included:

  • Trying to slice a bagel with one arm
  • Trying to button up a shirt with arthritic hands
  • Trying to eat when you can’t bend your arm
  • Trying to turn the pages of a newspaper without fingers

To simulate the problem, teachers were given cardboard sleeves; rubber gloves with lolly sticks in the finger and knee bandages placed over a folded arm.

The resulting ideas for products were amazing.

All these activities can be tried out in your classroom. The equipment needed is minimal and very easy to acquire.

Imagine & Plan

The next session focused on the first two stages of the Engineering Design Process. Teachers were given a set of photographs representing Homelessness, Dementia and Loneliness and asked to think about the problems that people suffering from these issues faced.

They were then tasked with choosing one of the problems to develop a product for. The results were very inventive, and each group presented a completely different idea.

Create & Improve

The final session was entitled ‘Perch on Plastic’ and focused on the ever-growing plastic problem. Teachers were required to take recycled plastic and repurpose it into a piece of furniture that they could perch on for at least 30 seconds. Again, the results were amazing.

Perhaps the most pleasing part of the day was watching the faces of the teachers as they engaged with each activity. They were definitely having fun. And a special thanks must go to all the Siemens engineers who attended the event and supported the teachers in their endeavours.

The task now is for the teachers to try out these activities with their own classes. This to prepare children for the final GMEC Challenge on 19th March.

Anyone can take part in this exciting project. For more details follow this link:

Lesson plans and resources for the Imagine & Plan and Create & Improve activities can be accessed on the GMEC website.



Sharing with Schools

Just over two years ago we launched our Think Like an Engineer project with a special event led by Professor Danielle George – highlights from which can be found on the Home page.

The aim of our project was to introduce Engineering Habits of Mind into our curriculum thereby encouraging children to adopt a creative problem-solving approach to their learning.

Step by Step

We did this gradually at first . . .

We gave each child an Engineering Log book into which we asked them to record their ideas, designs and reflections – just like real engineers. Teachers were encouraged to talk about Engineering Habits of Mind wherever possible within their lessons, so that the language became familiar to the children.

To keep the momentum going, we held regular whole school Engineering Days where we invited parents and engineers to work alongside their children. Our most recent event involved the RAF who came to help us make and launch gliders, which you can read about in last month’s blog.

Every half-term, we introduced what we call a Big Tinker, where classes across the school focused on an engineering task for the morning or afternoon. There are plenty of ideas for one off activities to be found now on the Internet.

We then started to fit engineering into our other lessons, such as Literacy, Science, History and Maths. KS1 teachers particularly, chose class texts that lent themselves to engineering activities.

Although measuring the quantifiable impact of our project has been difficult, we would argue that there have been a number of notable outcomes:

  • Resilience has increased significantly across the school. Children try noticeably harder in tests and leave fewer questions unanswered. They are much more prepared to ‘have a go’, as failure is just considered as a step on the way towards a successful result.
  • Communication skills have developed. Our children are articulate and able to talk to adults fluently, using precise language.
  • Girls’ confidence has been boosted. They now have a greater belief that they can do anything the boys can do.

Where to begin?

Starting the journey is certainly not easy. Maths and English results will always be a main priority; however, with Ofsted now favouring a ‘broad, rich and deep’ curriculum this may be the ideal time to introduce Engineering into schools. The question is: Where to begin, when teachers are already stretched to the limits?

Thanks to Cheshire East Highways our Log books have been made available to selected schools in Cheshire East. And, last week we held a major event to both showcase the work we have been doing at Rode Heath and launch our new Cross Curricular Civil Engineering resource, that has been sponsored by The ERA Foundation

This is a series of 12 double-sided A4 cards designed to support teachers on their engineering journey, by providing ready-made activities which will integrate into the existing curriculum. The aim is for teachers to use them as a starting point, enabling initial pieces of work to be recorded into the Engineering Log books.

Twilight Launch

On Thursday 6th December, we were delighted to welcome 35 teachers, representing 14 local schools to our Twilight Event, as well as 6 Cheshire East Highways engineers – all interested in helping to promote our project.

After a short introduction, the teachers were invited to talk to our pupils, who were demonstrating a selection of the activities that they had been involved in – some of which were taken directly from the new curriculum pack.

There were a number of zones around the school to investigate: Engineering Days, Big Tinkers, Technology Zone, Literacy Zone & Cross-curricular Zone.

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The children communicated brilliantly, explaining their activities articulately and with great confidence. Indeed, we had been overwhelmed by number of them wanting to stay behind after school to share. Overall, the evening was a huge success, with the visiting teachers very impressed by what they had seen, and hopefully inspired to start the process themselves.

Thank you to all the children, Rode Heath staff and Cheshire East Highways engineers who made the event possible.


Engineering with RAF Cosford

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 . . . .

Competition time

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 . . .

Linking Engineering with History

This first half-term of the new academic year has flown by, giving us little time to pause for breath. So what have we achieved at Rode Heath in terms of our engineering project? With the curriculum being increasingly squeezed – an extra half hour of PE a day, time needed for well being and diversity – what we really need is one of Hermione’s ‘Time Turners’ in order to fit everything in. Failing that, we must try and be more cross-curricular. Fortunately, there are still many opportunities to do this.

In Year 4, we have been studying the Romans, who are well-known for their remarkable feats of engineering, such as roads, bridges, tunnels and aqueducts. Perhaps one of the most significant achievements was the vast network of roads that they built – some of which you can still see today, over 2,000 years later. We decided to find out how the Romans managed to make these roads so straight.

We discovered that they used a device called a ‘groma’ – a simple cross of wood with arms of equal length. Each arm had a plumb line suspended from the end of it, which was equal in length to the other three plumb lines. This seemed easy enough to make, so we had a go. There were a few examples on the Internet, some made with lollipop sticks, but these proved very hard to fix together without splitting, so in the end we opted for strips of Greyboard, which seemed to work well, some string and a cardboard tube. The children were then left to decide what to use to weight their string so that it kept straight.

Most groups chose paperclips. Those who used Blu tack quickly discovered that the strings tended to stick together when they moved, which wasn’t ideal. The length of string was also found to be significant – too long and the lines were easily tangled.

Having made our gromas, the next step was to try them out on the school playing field. How successful would they be at making a straight line? The idea was to point one of the cardboard arms in the direction of where the children wanted the theoretical road to go and then send someone with a pole about 10 metres in that direction. Related image

The key was to line up the pole with the two strings and the cardboard tube. This process was then repeated until we had about three pole in a row.

In hindsight it would probably have been easier to line up the strings if we had used a piece of dowel instead of the cardboard tube, as these were rather wide and obscured the string somewhat. The exercise was deemed to be a great success though and the children gained a good understanding of how the Romans made their roads straight.

And, of course, the children were able to write about their experiences in their Engineering Log Books.

Making a Roman Road

This activity naturally led to the children wanting to make their own mini roads, which we did – in shoe boxes. Collecting the materials was surprisingly easy, as one of our parents was having some building work done, so there was a plentiful supply of sand, gravel and various sizes of stone – some of which were actually much larger than the shoe box for which they were intended!

Ideas of how the roads were in fact layered seemed to vary, so we just picked one which best suited the materials to hand. This isn’t something that I have ever attempted before and there are definitely things that I would do differently next time. It did however present opportunities to bring in a number of areas of the curriculum, particularly maths, as using digital scales, we were able to compare the different volume of gravel, stones and sand of the same weight.

Actually layering the different materials proved much more difficult that we anticipated. The aim was to clearly display each layer through a plastic window constructed at the end of the shoe box. However, the sand tended to mix in with everything. We decided that rather than trying to fill the whole box, it would be better just to focus on constructing the layers at one end.

This was an improved version, as a result of what we learned during the process.

The children had great fun and again will probably remember more about how the roads were built than if they had just researched the topic on the Internet or in books. Here are the children’s constructions.

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This exercise lent itself to a set of instructions. which were then presented in either a Word, Publisher or PowerPoint format – Literacy and Computing connections.

Reflecting on learning

It is very important at the end of these sessions to give the children time to reflect on their experiences. We always encourage them to think about and record their successes and failures: what aspects went particularly well; what difficulties did they face and how might they change their approach for next time? This can be quite daunting at first, but improves with practice.

So, what is next on the agenda? Making concrete of course – the Romans are supposed to have invented that too. Clever chaps those Romans . . .


Creating patterns with your voice

When you have been teaching the topic of ‘Sound’ for more years than you care to remember, it’s great to come across something new that you haven’t tried before. That’s what happened recently, as I was trawling through the Internet – I happened upon something called a ‘tonoscope’.

Demonstrating vibrations can sometimes be rather dull. There are the old favourites, of course – tuning forks in water; rice on a drum; striking a ruler on the desk; feeling your voice box as you speak – all of which do the job but are not particularly exciting.

A tonoscope on the other hand, generates a bit of magic. It is an acoustic device that enables you to create intricate patterns by just using the sound of your voice.

It is actually quite easy to make. You just need a length of 4” PVC drainpipe (which you will need to cut to an appropriate size) and an angled elbow piece – both of which I found in B&Q.


Below is a link to the instructional video I followed:

The most challenging part was trying to stretch the balloon over the upright end of the elbow piece. This proved very difficult – even with two of us trying – and we split a couple of balloons straight away.

Time for some creative thinking. Fortunately, because we are now used to ‘thinking like engineers’, we have become quite resilient and adept at problem solving. The issue was trying to keep the balloon on the pipe once we had stretched it across. Before we had time to put an elastic band around, one side invariably popped off – very frustrating.

It was Mrs Yates, the Year 4&5 TA, who came up with the solution. Before attempting to attach the balloon, she fixed a strip of double-sided tape around the edge of the pipe. Brilliant! It worked first time. The balloon stuck to the tape and allowed time for the elastic bands to be placed around the edge.

The results were not disappointing. We poured some salt onto the surface of the balloon and encouraged the children to speak into the tube. It was a great way to make sound waves visible.


What was more impressive was the questions that the children were asking:

  • What happens if you put the tonoscope on different surfaces? Will the sound change?
  • What is the difference in pattern between high and low sounds?
  • How loud do we have to shout to bounce the salt off the balloon?
  • Will it work with sugar or sand?
  • Will too much salt stop the balloon from vibrating?

Sometimes when you try out an idea, it falls flat. Not this one. It was really good fun. The children even asked if they could take it into assembly to show the rest of the school.