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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Sharing our engineering vision

We are nearly three weeks into the Autumn term, and it seems as though we have never been away. Already, at Rode Heath, we are thinking about the major engineering activities that are going to take place over the next three terms.

Looking back over last year, it is almost becoming possible to devise an engineering curriculum, based on the work that we have completed in each year group. Indeed, at the end of July, we put together a selection of examples from Year 1 through to Year 6 to create an exemplar Engineering Log book to share our vision.

A pdf of the book is available below. It is a testament to our two year journey, of which we are very proud, and has encouraged us to look forward to the future of our project.

Complete scanned Log Book


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Making Science Real

Trying to fit every subject into the already overcrowded curriculum is getting increasingly difficult. Greater depth projects which span multiple areas of learning are often the answer. As well as being more satisfying and motivating for the children (and teachers), they can pick up many maths, literacy and other curriculum objectives on the way, whilst being much more purposeful and relevant to real-life. 

When I asked my Year 4s at the end of the summer term which science activity they had enjoyed the most, the response was almost unanimous: our toothpaste project. The reason? Because it was hands-on, exciting and something that they could easily relate to.

Teeth is one of the topics of study in Year 4 science, but I didn’t want to make 26 sets out of playdough – partly because I wasn’t sure that I would do a good job – so I turned to the excellent CIEC resources as a starting point – Just in case you are not already familiar with these, the Centre for Industry Education Collaboration (CIEC) provides a range of curriculum-linked teaching resources for the teaching and learning of the science curriculum – one of which is entitled ‘Health Drinks and Tasty Toothpaste’.

Observation over time

We started off by testing the impact that different drinks have on our teeth by immersing boiled eggs in a variety of liquids: orange juice, water, coke, milk and coffee. Coffee was chosen by the Year 4s as they wanted to know whether it would stain the egg shell.

We started this investigation on Monday 18th June, which meant it fitted in well with our Great Science Share for Schools event on the following day. Year 4 children were able to take their eggs into the hall to share with pupils and adults from the visiting schools. They created a prediction table which they invited people to fill in – not surprisingly the coke was voted the liquid that would have the most harmful effect.

Over the course of the next week we observed the eggs carefully and recorded any changes. Not unexpectedly, the water had no effect. We were however surprised that the orange juice appeared to have had the worst effect. Coffee had stained the eggshell, as we had anticipated. When the children investigated orange juice, they found out that it had a pH of 4.2, which meant that it was quite acidic.

On reflection, it would have been better to peel the eggs and just leave the shells in the liquid, which would have made them easier to handle. The CIEC resource just suggests using dilutions of vinegar; however, the children wanted to use real drinks.

Linking with history

Everyone agreed that it was important to regularly brush your teeth to remove any sugars that could cause decay. This led onto a piece of research which was set for homework to investigate the history of teeth cleaning.

Some very interesting facts were discovered: –

Inventing our own engineering solutions

As I am always very keen to incorporate an engineering element into our projects, I asked the children, for homework, to continue the timeline by imagining how people would clean their teeth 500 years from now – in 2518. I was not disappointed, as they came up with some really original ideas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next step in class was to test different brands of toothpaste to see how effective they were in removing permanent marker pen off a white tile (scratchiness test).

The children also tested for thickness by trying to shake a blob of toothpaste off the toothbrush. This caused much hilarity and a few accidents on the carpet where the aim had not been quite as accurate as it might.

Arm & Hammer appeared to be the best at removing the pen.
Arm & Hammer also took the most amount of shakes to drop off the toothbrush.

Making our own toothpaste

Of course what all the children had been waiting for was the opportunity to make their own toothpaste. We used the recipe from the CIEC resource adding peppermint essence for flavouring and various food colouring. The key to success was to obtain just the right thickness.

Isaac and Mason added real strawberries to their mixture. Not very practical as the mixture would soon go off, but an interesting idea.

Once the toothpaste was made then it was time for the scratch and shake testing. All of the groups declared that their own brand of toothpaste was much more successful than the real thing.

Linking with maths and literacy

There was a great opportunity now to develop other cross-curricular links, as we decided to think about packaging and marketing our various toothpastes. In maths, we opened up the toothpaste boxes to determine the net we would need to make our own containers. We also looked at the information that was included on each side to make sure that our versions matched.

Next came the development of a name for our toothpaste and associated logo. In Literacy, we examined existing brands and analysed why the names might have been chosen. We decided that it was important that the name reflected the benefits of the product.  There were some thoughtful ideas, ranging from Brush-up through to AquaMint and Magic Shimmer.

One of the packaging designs

The children were certainly very proud of their efforts and keen to promote their products. We were quickly approaching the end of term, so after some initial research into existing toothpaste advertising, I gave each group an iPad and tasked them with using what they had discovered to produce their own TV ads. Considering the searing heat and very limited time frame, I think that their first takes were very commendable (if somewhat over enthusiastic in some cases :))

Here are just a few examples for you to enjoy:

Taking the learning home

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the project for me, as a teacher, was when one of my pupils asked to show me a tube of toothpaste that her mum had given her which she thought would be of interest. Iona had heard me talk about Biomimicry – engineers taking ideas from nature – as we had looked at examples earlier in the year and she thought that this product might have links.

She was right. This toothpaste is special because it uses something called ‘bioactive glass’ which contains Calcium, Phosphate and Fluoride. When encountering acid on teeth caused by bacteria metabolising sugars, the glass dissolves quickly raising the pH and releasing calcium phosphate and fluoride ions to minimise damage to the enamel.

Obviously, the glass particles are very tiny, so they do not scratch the teeth. Although this was a very complex subject, it led to a great discussion about how glass is made and questions as to why sand couldn’t be used in toothpaste in the same way. They eventually decided that sand particles would be too big and they would discolour the toothpaste  – quite remarkable I thought for 8 and 9-year olds.

If I return to this topic next year, which I am sure that I will, I would really like the opportunity to take the children to a toothpaste factory. If anyone knows of a suitable venue in the UK – preferably in the North West – please let me know.





Linking STEM with Literacy

This year seems to have whizzed by at a tremendous pace, probably due to all the exciting events that have been going on at Rode Heath. Last month we participated in this year’s Great Science Share for schools as a satellite, which was great fun – more of that later – but this blog follows on from June’s discussion of how we are linking STEM subjects with literacy.

This month it is the turn of science and we are delighted to announce that our school has been chosen to participate in the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2018. This is an annual event where children are invited to take part in a panel to judge a short list of six books that communicate science to young people. The prize aims to inspire young people to read about science and promotes the best science writing for the under-14s.

These are the books in this year’s shortlist: –


As the process rolls over into the next school year, we have chosen six year 5 children as panel members. It is quite a demanding process and requires each child to read all of the six books, recording their scores and thoughts along the way, before collectively choosing an overall winner.

Already the selected pupils have devoured their first books – the reviews of which can be seen below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We have been impressed by the quality of their responses. Certainly, giving children a purpose for writing seems to have a very positive impact on quality; moreover, it is a great way to engage them with science.



Linking Engineering with Literacy

One of the main obstacles to introducing Engineering into the primary curriculum has to be the perceived need to focus on English and Maths, which leaves very little room for anything else, let alone a new subject.

That is why introducing Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoM) is key. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, these are characteristics that engineers have said that they use when carrying out their day to day jobs and were highlighted in a report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering:

Engineering habits

These six ‘habits’ (highlighted in blue in the above diagram) fit perfectly into all areas of the primary curriculum, and nowhere more so than Literacy. little miss inventor

Think about it: –

  • Systems Thinking
    • understanding how the different components of a piece of writing fit together
  • Creative Problem Solving
    • generating concepts, themes, characters, plots, dilemmas
  • Visualising
    • story maps, flow charts, mind maps, creating a picture in your head
  • Adapting
    • changing the genre to suit the audience and purpose
  • Problem Finding
    • proof reading
  • Improving
    • editing work


Not only that, but we can read both fiction and non-fiction books related to Engineering and produce associated writing. But how can we truly embed engineering concepts into our Literacy lessons?

Last week I had the pleasure of running a number of sessions with Gemma Taylor, on the two day ‘Teaching engineering in the primary classroom’ course – one of which was entitled ‘Engineering in Literacy’.

The focus of this session was to show teachers how they could take their class text and incorporate engineering into their teaching – something we have been doing for the past 18 months at Rode Heath Primary. 

The principle is fairly simple.

  1. Pick a book
  2. As you are reading it, consider what challenges the main character faces.
  3. How does the character solve his/her problems.
  4. Could the problem be solved by engineering?

We were lucky enough to have stunning group of delegates, who had brought a selection of fiction texts with them from the classic A Christmas Carol to Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. Together we spent an hour creating a series of mind maps which can be seen below:- 

A Christmas Carol map

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

Ideas for Charlie

Spiderwick ideas

The London Eye Mystery ideas

Stormbreaker ideas

Two Towers ideas

I was a rat ideas

holes ideas

Once your children have gathered a set of ideas, discuss which of them might feasibly be solved by engineering. Then have a go: –

  • Design functional, realistic, appropriate solutions
  • Engage in the Engineering Design Process
  • Improve designs
  • Present solutions

You don’t even need to make your products – just create the designs on paper and encourage the children to talk through them.

Here’s an example that our Year 1 teacher, Miss Moss, developed with her class.

Her topic in Year 1 in the spring term was ‘Superheroes’.  We have been learning all about heroes, fictional heroes and real-life heroes.  The text was ‘Supertato’, a superhero amongst his fellow vegetables especially when the Evil Pea escapes from the freezer and causes chaos in the supermarket.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“The children realised from the text that their superhero didn’t always catch the ‘Evil Pea’ first time and often he had to give chase around the supermarket.  The children decided they needed to invent something that would help Supertato catch the Evil Pea.  After much deliberation they come up with a vehicle that would help Supertato travel around the supermarket faster than he was already doing.

There are often many steps involved in designing a vehicle but some of this also has to be through exploration.  I gave the children a problem and asked them to think of a way to solve this problem.

I gave the children a variety of materials to begin including Lego, Duplo and Magformers.  The children quickly began to design vehicles to help supertato.

Once the children had started I gave them a potato and we discussed some of the things that their vehicle would need.

 This is how we came up with our success criteria:

  • Is this vehicle the right size? – most were not until I gave them a potato and then they thought carefully about their vehicle design
  • Will Supertato be secure? – The potato being the shape that it is gave the children a whole new problem to solve. Could they keep the potato in the vehicle?
  • Would this help Supertato to move quickly around the supermarket? – The children found this the most challenging. The potato was quite heavy so some designs just wouldn’t move because of the weight.  The children looked at the designs of others and quickly realised that those that were being pushed around were slower and those that had wheels were moving along a lot quicker.

This gave us our next focus – wheels!”

We have found that the benefits for Literacy are wide reaching: –

  • increased engagement in reading
  • more attentive – searching for problems
  • collect evidence from text
  • purposeful writing opportunities
    • write a letter to the character explaining your invention
    • rewrite a scene in the book which incorporates your idea
  • increased imagination and creativity

It’s definitely worth having a go! Let us know how you get on.

Thank you to: Louise Atkinson, Ross McTaggart, Lauren Bain, Sarah Elmer, Sarah Entwhistle, Liz Jackson, Lisa Larham and Laura Thompson for your mindmap input.

Reaping the benefits

Sometimes you wonder when you go against the grain, whether you are following the right path. Trusting your instincts can be a lonely and often challenging experience. At Rode Heath, for the past 18 months, we have persevered in our belief that teaching children to think like engineers – to problem solve, visualise, adapt and improve – will have huge benefits in the long term.

Already, we are hearing from KS1 staff that the Year 2s have shown increased resilience this year whilst taking their SATs – a fact that we would attribute to our engineering project. And, this week the Year 4s have demonstrated their creative problem solving skills on a number of occasions during their residential visit to Quinta.

The activity that most springs to mind was the raft building activity led by the excellent Joe, from

This year, a more structured approach to the raft building was taken, with a clear focus on the engineering design process. This was the first time that the activity had been delivered in this way. Normally, the children are given a set of materials and challenged to build; however, we started with some questions about structure and design and the children were tasked with first coming up with a design on paper.

Questions to consider were: –

  • how many people does it take to sink a barrel?
  • how do we spread the weight of the children and teacher?
  • what shapes are the most rigid?
  • would a wide or narrow platform be more stable?

Some interesting ideas were generated and discussed.

The next stage was to make a model using a variety of different sized sticks. This was a great idea as it really helped the children to visualise their drawings and provided a set of clear steps to construct the life-sized craft. Moreover, it reinforced the benefit of knowing exactly what materials you would need to use – something that engineers do in real life to keep costs down and improve efficiency.

The children came up with these stages in the production process:

  1. First create a square shape to hold in the barrels. Lay down the barrels to work out the size that the square needs to be, as it is important to make sure that they are tightly fitted.
  2.  Separate the barrels with a piece of wood. This will keep them in situ and help stabilise the raft.
  3. Put a couple of extra pieces of wood on top to make the barrels even more secure.  (Actually, when the raft was finished, the children decided that this step was unnecessary.)

Obviously the logs needed to be tied together, so the children had to learn how to tie a series of knots, the most important of which was the clove hitch.

Once the clove hitch has been tied, then the two logs are sandwiched together by a technique called box lashing. This is followed by throttling (all excellent terms) and finally, to tidy everything up, you tie a shoelace knot (reef to those in the know!)

Having been shown these steps, wearing hard hats and buoyancy aids, the children set about constructing their raft. The instructors were extremely impressed by both the children’s teamwork and the way they had picked up the knot making. They could not believe that they were only 8 and 9 years old.

Box lashing

The work put in at the beginning in planning and developing a model to follow, now paid off, as building the actual raft became much simpler. Soon it was time to take it to the edge of the pond, to see if it actually floated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The objective of the whole process had been to produce a craft that floated and would carry 13 children and an adult around the small island in the pond. This was the success criteria and, according to Joe from Freax Adventures, had rarely been achieved, and certainly not by children as young as ours.

Still, we were feeling confident, and after a brief lesson in how to row forwards and backwards and turn from left to right, the children set off on their epic journey with Mrs Stevenson planted in the middle row and Joe leading the way and shouting out instructions from his canoe.

I was amazed how coordinated the children were – personally I have never managed the technique, and only ever seem to row in circles. Not so our intrepid Year 4s though, and soon they were on their way back, having circumnavigated the island.

If I had known what a success it was going to be, I would have definitely have swapped with Mrs Stevenson – but someone has to do the filming!

A completely dry landing – very different from last year when everyone fell in!

The second group of 13, with Mrs Pecora in charge, were equally as successful and rowed around the entire island without capsizing – much to the chagrin of some of them.

Group 2

Still, they did make up for it by going in for a second time and leaping off into the very cold and distinctly murky water.

Mrs Pecora just loves getting wet!





Recording in Log Books

I am sure that there will be a number of people out there wondering how we actually record engineering activities in our log books, so I thought I would post an example of work done following the recent Fluor catapult challenge.

The key to making our project a success at Rode Heath has always been to try and incorporate engineering into existing lessons, wherever possible. Most engineering tasks can be linked to at least one other core curriculum subject; whether it is extending a science lesson by looking at the application of scientific ideas; making notes on the successes and failures of an activity in Literacy; or using formulas in maths to work out cost implications versus product success.

This engineering challenge had clear links with maths. Indeed there was a table provided in the activity for children to work out which catapult was the most successful, based on distance travelled against cost of materials – something that engineers continually have to think about when designing real-life products.

Below are some examples from a Year 4 log book of how this activity was captured – in a Literacy and maths lesson.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alongside all of this, will have been the discussions taking place amongst the teams; the hands-on experimentation as the children adapted and improved their products and the sheer joy when the ball actually landed in the basket – all of these valuable lessons for the children to learn.

Of course, the engineering work could just as easily be recorded in the book associated with that lesson – and it frequently is.

Take this Year 1 work from their recent Super Hero project – a great example of engineering, but produced during a Literacy lesson.

And, in Year 2, teachers used the Literacy lesson to write a recount of how the children had made rubber-powered boats – part of their Inventions project.

We are now developing some stickers, so that it will be very evident where engineering is being used across the curriculum.

It’s all about being creative – thinking like an engineer, in fact!