At Rode Heath Primary school, we believe in encouraging our children to be curious about the world around them and are committed to providing an environment where they can develop real-life skills such as creative problem-solving. Following on from our hugely successful Out of This World Space project, we have developed a new whole school initiative Think Like an Engineer, which will be documented in these pages.

The Think Like an Engineer project stems from our involvement with the Tinker Tailor Robot Pi project run by Lynne Bianchi from Manchester University. Over the course of 2015-2016 we learned about Engineering Habits of Mind and introduced the concept of Tinkering to our Year 3 & 4 classes. This proved to be so successful that we decided to take the idea EHOM further and independently developed our own Engineering Log Book to give to each child from Reception up to Year 6.

Contained in the log book is a series of engineering levels through which children will progress as they rise up the school. Reception children will start as technicians and move towards achieving the role of senior engineer by the end of Year 6. The log books contain tables of competencies at the back which children will need to meet before they can move on to the next engineering level. These are based on the UK Standard for Engineering Competence which have been rewritten into I can statements.

The aim of the project is to develop a collection of engineering activities to be carried out by individual year groups. Ideally these will span a wide range of engineering disciplines from mechanical and electrical, through to chemical, software and environmental. Where possible, engineering activities will be linked to an aspect of the science curriculum for that year group.

Central to each unit will be the Engineering Design Process (EDP): ask, imagine, plan, create, improve.  Emphasizing the EDP will help us to foster pupils’ questioning and creativity, and allow pupils to enhance their problem-solving skills. We will also be encouraging children to develop Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoMs) and translate these working practices to other areas of the curriculum.



Thinking like Farmers at Rode Heath

Just before we broke up for half term, we launched our latest Rode Heath school STEM project, which this year is going to revolve around #FarmtoFork. Even though the rain was lashing down, there was much excitement amongst pupils and teachers as each class braved the weather to plant a pair of cotton pants (freshly delivered from Amazon!) to investigate how healthy the soil is in our school grounds.

Testing the soil

For those of you not in the know, this may seem like a very strange thing to do, but it has a real purpose. The idea is that if you plant your pants down far enough – about 20cm into the ground – and leave them for 60+ days, then if your soil is healthy millions of tiny life-forms will literally eat the pants you have buried, leaving just the elastic as evidence. Conversely, if your soil is relatively unhealthy and not teeming with life, then your pants will remain unscathed. Make sure they are 100% cotton (or other natural material) though; otherwise it won’t work.

This fun activity was carried out by farmers earlier this year for the LEAF Open Farm Sunday on 12 June 2022 – and more recently has been a focus of Radio 4’s long running soap, The Archers, so it must be a legitimate thing to do.

I am not sure what our expectations are at Rode Heath but each class chose their area very seriously and marked it with a special yellow pole, designed by our School Business Manager, Edy Hicklin. Now, it’s a waiting game . . . although those children who genuinely expect a cotton tree to grow, are definitely going to be disappointed.

Investing in Hydroponics

So why have we chosen #FarmtoFork as our theme this year? There are a number of reasons, one of which is our desire to make children more aware of how precious and finite our resources are – particularly soil – whilst encouraging them to eat more healthily.

We want to make the food element of our D&T curriculum more purposeful by involving our pupils directly in the growing process, from herbs on their pizzas to tomatoes and cucumbers in their salads – all using a sustainable, low carbon footprint.

To help us achieve these goals we have invested in 3 hydroponic systems, invented for schools by Sue Tonks from https://hydroveg.co.uk/

The word “hydroponics” comes from the Greek words for “water” and “labour,” and refers to the technique of growing plants without soil. When plants are grown hydroponically, their roots are dipped straight into nutrient-rich solutions. Since they are connected directly to the necessary nutrients, hydroponically-grown plants have smaller root systems. This saves energy and allows it to be diverted to leaf and stem growth. Hydroponic systems require limited space, use 70% LESS water than soil based growing, grow 30% faster, and have no need for herbicides or pesticides, making them a very ‘green’ solution.

Sue will be visiting Rode Heath during Science Week next March and will work with all our pupils to build and populate each system. We will also be encouraging the Rode Heath community to help us grow seedlings and will be asking for volunteers to work with the children to maintain the plants and develop the school garden.

As always, we will be forging links with local businesses such as Mornflake in Crewe and inviting farmers and engineers into school to share their experiences with our pupils.

Real-life Learning

To provide a structure to our planning and further enrich our STEM curriculum, we will be taking part in this year’s Engineering Educates Farmvention Challenge – a brand new campaign created by the University of Manchester’s Science & Engineering Education Research and Innovation Hub (SEERIH) and the NFU, which offers pupils the chance to design solutions for real-world problems related to farming and sustainability.

Launched in September 2022

There are a wealth of excellent resources for both teachers and pupils to engage in from investigating the problems faced by arable farmers to learning about and responding to the challenges of dairy farming. Each strand of the campaign works through the phases of the Engineering Design Process making it an exciting, relevant and purposeful way of delivering the D&T curriculum.

I strongly urge both KS2 and KS3 teachers to take a closer look at what’s on offer by signing up to one of the free introductory webinars.

You can find out more information here: https://www.engineeringeducates.org/

Meanwhile – why don’t you consider planting some pants?

JCB Engineers visit Rode Heath

On Monday July 4th we welcomed four young engineers from JCB to Rode Heath, who led us in our summer term Engineering Day. The theme of the day was mechanical engineering and to inspire the children they brought along two of their iconic yellow machines.

Erin, Harry, Ed and Matt

QUICK FACT: Did you know that the JCB yellow has actually been patented, so that no-one is allowed to use that particular yellow without permission?

The day started with a customary assembly where we were introduced to our four JCB personnel: Erin, Harry and Ed – all Engineering Degree Apprentices – and Matt, who is a graduate engineer. What a professional group of young people! Miss Beard and I had already met them on a recent visit to the JCB World Headquarters in Rocester where we were treated to an extensive behind the scenes tour of the offices and production line. Hailed as a ‘factory in a landscape’ it certainly seems a fantastic environment to work in with three lakes and acres of parkland to wander around and look out on from the office windows.


JCB is one of the largest privately-owned engineering and manufacturing companies in the UK and the world’s third largest manufacturer of construction machinery. With a global presence and manufacturing facilities on 4 continents, it employs over 11,000 people worldwide.

QUICK FACT: Did you know that JCB currently holds 3 world speed records?

  • The world’s fastest diesel-powered car (2006 – 350 mph),
  • The world’s fastest Backhoe Loader (2014 – 72 mph) and,
  • The world’s fastest Tractor (2019 – 135 mph) – driven by Guy Martin and filmed as part of a feature programme on Channel 4.
The fastest tractor in the world

The aim for all our Engineering Days is to develop a programme of activities that caters for all our pupils from Reception right up to Year 6.

The day started off with Reception and Year 1, who were particularly keen to look at the machines, parked in the Junior playground. It soon became clear that the tyres on the larger vehicle were actually bigger than some of the children themselves.

Many questions were asked before the children went inside to draw their own JCB – thinking particularly about the different parts that make up the machines and what role they play.

Year 2 focussed on the layout of the inside of the JCB cab, comparing it to the dashboards of their own family cars, photos of which parents had previously sent in. They were particularly taken by the hare and tortoise buttons which determine the speed at which the machine operates.

Meanwhile Years 3 & 4 had been investigating all the different attachments that it was possible to use with the JCBs – and they discovered a multitude, including folding grass forks, shovels, power grabs and even parts that provide permanent pot hole repairs.

Their task was to design and prototype their own ideas for attachments – many of which were very creative.

And, finally, Year 5 & 6 spent the morning debating the different merits of hydrogen and electric powered vehicles, creating posters to present their thoughts.

Their focus when examining the JCBs was on hydraulics and understanding how this principle is used to control the movement of the JCB attachments. Back in the classroom the children had the opportunity to experiment at first hand with mini excavators, using syringes and pipes filled with water.

Overall, the whole day was a huge success with children motivated and excited about their learning. Many thanks must go to Erin, Ed, Harry and Matt, who are fantastic ambassadors for their company, JCB.

Bringing real engineers into the school environment is so important as it not only makes learning relevant and purposeful for pupils but it builds on their existing STEM capital, raising awareness of the many and varied career opportunities available to them in the future.

Engaging children with Nuclear Engineering

It’s nearly 16 months since we last enjoyed an engineering visit at Rode Heath, and even then, it was only virtual, with engineer and entrepreneur, Laurence Cooke, engaging our pupils over a 45-minute Zoom.

So it was with huge pleasure that we welcomed seven engineers and scientists from the Dalton Nuclear Institute and Sheffield University – in the flesh – to teach our KS2 pupils about Nuclear Engineering..

The event had been a long time in the planning and significant thanks go to our science governor, Dr Paul Nevitt – Science and Technology Director at the National Nuclear Laboratory – for introducing us to Rachel Law, Outreach & Communications Office for the Dalton Nuclear Institute, who brought the team together.

Inspiring role models

We couldn’t have asked for better role models for our pupils. The energy and enthusiasm they shared for their areas of expertise was infectious. Nuclear Energy is not the simplest subject matter to convey to primary aged children but the group managed to both energise and educate our learners over the course of the day, as evidence from the work that was produced clearly shows.

It all started with an assembly, led by James Mansfield, PhD Researcher at the Immobilisation Science Laboratory (the University of Sheffield), who having introduced his colleagues, gave an overview of how nuclear energy is made. This was the first time since COVID disrupted our lives that the pupils have been gathered together in the hall and what an amazing re-introduction it was.

James introduces his colleagues: Kirstie, Tatiana, Meg, Reza and Jess

Not only did James entertain us with a word-perfect rendition of the Periodic Table song – (who knew that so many elements make up nuclear waste!) – he then demonstrated how we keep waste safe by helping one of our Year 4 pupils wrap a fellow classmate in multiple layers of clingfilm, tin foil, kitchen roll and brown paper to represent the four layers of glass, metal canister, clay and solid rock.

James measured Hattie’s temperature before and after being wrapped up. It was interesting to see that it had dropped from 24 – 19 degrees, clearly illustrating the insulating properties of the materials.

Next it was time for some activities.

Interactive nuclear stations

There were five interactive ‘nuclear stations’ set up for the children and expertly manned by the volunteers.

These included: –

  1. Using robots and a ‘glovebox’ to move ‘radioactive materials’ around
  2. Splitting your own atom and see how a fission reactor works
  3. Using a Geiger counter to see how radioactive things really are
  4. Learning more about nuclear waste disposal using a Lego model
  5. Using a plasma ball to learn about nuclear fusion

Reza, who was responsible for activity 2, had designed and 3D printed two halves of a uranium atom, which the children threw ‘neutrons’ at to split. It had taken over 40 hours to print, which reminded me of our own foray into 3D printing during our ‘Out of this World’ space project.

The children were completely engrossed and asked many searching questions. The complexity of the subject matter didn’t seem to faze them at all and they were able to clearly explain the processes when encouraged by those leading the activities.

Evidence of their learning was further demonstrated back in class where each pupil was tasked with producing a poster to display their understanding of nuclear energy.

The results speak for themselves.

Huge thanks must go to Jess Paterson and Kirstie Ryan, Reza Farrokhnia, Meg Watters, James Mansfield and Tatiana Grebennikova, who expertly delivered their sessions 20 times over the course of the day – always with great enthusiasm and a smile on their face.

Exposing children to real engineers and scientists is hugely important if we wish to make them aware of the wide range of exciting STEM careers available to them. Our visitors today certainly gave our Rode Heath pupils plenty to aspire to.

Something to celebrate . . .

Sometimes it feels as though you are swimming against the tide and there have certainly been moments during our Think Like an Engineer project when the going has been tough. Maintaining motivation and direction is tricky when faced with the demands of an already over faced primary curriculum.

Support is a key to success

Fortunately, at Rode Heath we have had the support of many organisations and people who have facilitated our progress over the past four years:

  • STFC who, during the initial stages of our engineering journey, provided access to engineering apprentices over a six-week period.
  • Individuals such as Marc Fouldes from Siemens who has delivered regular engineering workshops to our KS2 classes.
  • Visiting ambassadors ranging from Pete Lomas of Raspberry Pi fame to members of RAF Cosford offering expertise on our many whole school engineering days.
  • And more recently, Cheshire East Highways who sponsored the printing of 3,000 of our Engineering Log books allowing many schools in Cheshire East to follow our programme.

For the past three years we have also taken part in the excellent Greater Manchester Engineering Challenge (GMEC), a campaign devised by the University of Manchester’s Science and Engineering Education Research Innovation Hub (SEERIH) to inspire 7-14 year olds to engage with engineering using project-based tasks linked to the National Curriculum: https://seerih-innovations.org/tinkering4learning/gmec/

Rode Heath’s ideas for a sustainable community (GMEC 2020)

All the above, I believe have been contributing factors to us continuing our efforts.

Does engineering make a difference?

One of the questions we are asked most, is what impact the project is having on our Rode Heath pupils. As teachers, we can point to increases in resilience, confidence, problem solving and communication skills, but hard evidence is difficult to find. That is why I was delighted this month to learn of the success achieved by two of our Year 6 pupils, prize winners in this year’s Great Exhibition at Home competition – an event sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering: https://www.big-ideas.org/join1851/

Isaac and Lili were placed 2nd overall for their invention – the ‘pollution solution’ – designed to harvest plastic from the North Atlantic Garbage Patch. Moreover, theirs was the top-scoring entry for primary schools in the country, winning a trophy for Rode Heath.  This was a considerable accomplishment, as the competition was open to a wide range of pupils from Year 4 to Year 12 and had to be completed at home during lockdown.

Remote collaboration

The competition meant Isaac and Lili working together via Zoom on a 7-week STEM adventure. Each week they learned about a different invention from the original Great Exhibition and took part in an engineering challenge. The competition culminated in the production of a one-minute video which showcased their solution to the question: How can engineering help protect the planet? 

For more information about the winners follow this link: https://www.big-ideas.org/the-great-exhibition-at-home-2020-prize-winners/

You can watch Isaac and Lili’s prize-winning video here: https://youtu.be/YBBuMfKHvyM

For me, this feat validates the integration of engineering into our curriculum over the past four years and is why we will continue to fly the engineering flag at Rode Heath whilst encouraging other schools to join us.

With the curriculum currently focused heavily on maths and literacy, it is perhaps even more important to inspire children with some real-world creative learning.


NOTE: Any company wishing to sponsor the printing of more Engineering Log Books for schools, please contact me. You can access an example of one completed by different year groups here: https://thinklikeanengineerproject.com/ehoms/completed-engineering-log-book/ 

Top down education? Or should we listen to our children?

Gavin Williamson thinks we should go back to teaching children in rows. That is all well and good but will it help with their learning?

During lockdown, I wrote a blog celebrating the creative approach that many pupils have adopted outside the familiar school structure. Despite having limited guidance from their teachers and working in very different conditions, they have managed to cope and often thrive, gaining greater independence and control over what they choose to study.

Towards the end of June, many of these children returned to their classrooms for a few weeks and I was keen to find out what the Rode Heath contingent had gained from their experience of learning at home. The vast majority had been absent for over three months from full time education and would have had plenty of chance to reflect on the positives and negatives of not being at school.

What is the best learning environment?

As educators we have a responsibility to provide the best learning environment for our pupils so we should take the opportunity to listen to what they have to say on that topic.

To try and find out more, I put together a brief survey, which asked four basic questions:

  • Can you tell me 3 things that you liked about being able to learn at home and 3 things that you didn’t like?
  • Can you tell me 3 things that made learning at home different from learning at school?
  • If there was work that you found difficult, how did you find out the answer without a teacher being there to help?
  • Do you think that the way in which you learn something can help you to remember it better? If so, what is the best way for you to learn?

As all children hadn’t returned to school, the survey was set as a Home Learning task, which pupils either completed in school or at home. Altogether, it was done independently by 62 KS2 pupils out of a potential cohort of 116 – 32 of the respondents were girls and 30 were boys. There were also a handful of Y2 children who answered the questions in class – (7 boys and 4 girls).

As the questions were qualitative in nature, there was a broad range of answers; however, there were several themes that kept reoccurring. As ‘sticky knowledge’ is such a hot topic nowadays, I was particularly interested to discover whether children were able to reflect on whether learning from home had positively impacted their memory. If so, then replicating their experiences in the classroom would surely be worth doing.

The need for a quiet atmosphere

Most children, particularly girls, appeared to like working in a peaceful environment. Although they certainly missed their friends, being able to concentrate was thought to be a good thing.

A flexible way of working

We know that children have different needs and one rule does not fit all. The survey painted a clear picture of children welcoming the new flexibility that the home learning offered. They particularly appreciated being able to take their time over subjects that interested them and found it much more useful being able to choose the order in which to carry out their tasks. This view applied equally to girl and boy respondents. Many children enjoyed being able to make decisions about how they recorded their work too, which was clearly evident in the wealth of creativity that was displayed, particularly in science.

Teachers are essential to learning

The good news is that although parents were overwhelmingly the source of help during lockdown – with Alexa only being mentioned once – children felt that having a teacher to guide and explain things was definitely the best option.

Unfortunately, opinions as to the best methods of retaining learning were more sketchily drawn. This may have been due to not understanding the question properly, or simply that the children found it difficult to be reflective. There were some interesting individual comments however, with these elements considered important:

  • getting things wrong
  • doing hands-on activities
  • keeping notes
  • persevering and having more time to digest
  • keeping things simple
  • collaborating with others

One Year 6 pupil even stated that the fact that he had learned in such strange circumstances – i.e. lockdown – would make it much easier to remember everything. Probably rather dramatic as a strategy though!

One tic-tac or two?

The younger children – Year 2 – enjoyed having breaks when they liked and seemed particularly motivated by reward systems, with one child bemoaning the fact that there were no prizes as his mum was unaware of the star and pebble system, whilst another was satisfied with the occasional tic-tac.

All in all, the responses made very interesting reading – certainly food for thought going forward.

2020 has definitely been an unprecedented year and it is still unclear as to what will happen in the near future. Many schools will be running catch-up programmes from September and there will be a heavy focus on Literacy and Numeracy. But let us not forget that to learn effectively, children need to be inspired – not drilled. We need to encourage their curiosity and make them eager learners. Children tend to invest more time and energy in topics that motivate and interest them so we should provide a rich and varied curriculum that is relevant to their needs.


Painting without brushes

There is an argument currently running that children’s absence from school is having a detrimental effect on their learning. To some extent, and for some children, this may be true – education is naturally a collaborative, shared experience with your peers and this has certainly been more difficult in lockdown.

However, if I look at the evidence that is pouring out via social media – not only from my own school but pupils from all over the country – learning seems to be flourishing. And, I would argue, it is more valuable and has greater ‘stickability’.

Guided by innate curiosity

This is undoubtedly because children are being children – exploring by themselves, questioning things and embracing new ideas. Subject matter is not being dictated. Instead, children are following their own interests, guided by an innate curiosity which is often driven out by our rigid education system. Maths is still being done, but more purposefully – measuring the growth of beans each day; weighing out ingredients for bread and cakes; counting birds in the garden; observing how the length of shadows change throughout the day – the list goes on.

A.A. Milne puts it very well:

“Christopher Robin came down from the Forest feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn’t matter a bit, and he thought that if he stood on the bridge and watched the river, he would know everything that there was to be known.”

Just because children are not sat at a desk rehearsing their times tables doesn’t mean they are not learning.

And it is not only children that have unleashed their inner creativity. You just need to look at the wealth of amazing resources that have been generated since we closed our schools.

Science seems to be particularly flourishing during lockdown.

One of the science campaigns particularly close to my heart is the Great Science Sharehttps://www.greatscienceshare.org/ now offering a new theme each week for children to engage in.

Another colleague – Dr Jon Chippindall – has been delivering his ‘Daily Doses’ of science, computing and engineering since March 23rd – definitely one to subscribe to: https://drchips.weebly.com/

Time to reflect

As a teacher, I have also benefited during lockdown, having had the time to reflect and look at my area of specialism in much more depth – gaining a much better understanding of what happens in the various year groups. There has been space in the day to research what’s out there – making new discoveries and contacts for the future. We have certainly had to think differently about how we ‘teach’ our pupils remotely, but this has offered the opportunity to plan more creatively without the ‘paintbrush’ of the national curriculum.

There are indeed many benefits that we should take advantage of in these troubled times. At Rode Heath, the impact on children’s understanding of technology has been positive with many of our primary pupils – certainly in KS2 – adapting to their lack of face to face communication by becoming proficient in Zooming.

I suspect that oral Literacy will have improved with more conversations in many families going on around the dinner table. Parents also have become extremely resourceful – finding learning opportunities in many seemingly normal day-to-day activities.

nation of innovators and entrepreneurs

So, when we do finally return in full capacity to schools, which we will, let’s not go back to our old ways of teaching. We are a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs who thrive on creativity and we should therefore nurture the independence, curiosity and resilience our children have developed during lockdown.

It’s time for us to think differently about how we educate our children. This means abandoning conventional methods and trying something completely new – putting aside the paintbrush and painting with a sock instead. Who knows what might happen?

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.

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 – https://www.eie.org/

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!”