Helping pupils to understand how engineering interacts with the world they live in is a key focus of the Happold Foundation’s work. We are currently supporting volunteers from BuroHappold Engineering to run an education programme at Whitehall Primary School. Now running into its second year, the programme at the London school has gone from strength to strength. Przemyslaw Czajkowski (Przem) and Grace Waterman discuss how the programme works and the benefits for pupils and teachers.
The engineers have been working with year five students for 18 months, using practical, hands on methods to explore engineering principles. “The aim is to teach simple engineering concepts to students, using both our surroundings and everyday items. The sessions use ordinary items to teach engineering principles – things like coffee sticks, sellotape, blue tack and card.” Grace explains. “We work really closely with the teachers to refine lessons and make sure the children are getting the best out of it,” Przem adds. “The first year, we had a larger presentation that was maybe a little less engaging for the students. We listened to feedback and simplified the materials to make them more age appropriate for the students. Teachers have input into the sessions at all stages.”
The programme is divided into six sessions, design and nature, foundations and roots, designing a house, bridges, sustainability and a final session that asks students to use all of the knowledge they’ve gained throughout the year. The first session, design and nature, aims to show children the relationship between engineering and nature. “In this session we encourage children to look at the patterns in the world around them – for example in plants, the human body and the animal world. We look at how all these things are made up, and then at how they influence the built environment,” explains Grace.
Focusing next on materials, students are challenged to build towers using spaghetti and marshmallows. The pupils were tasked with thinking about how to create a strong structure and the different elements they would need to think about to keep it standing. “This session is really practical, which is important for this age group. It’s always great to see what the children come up with – there are always a lot of carefully thought out and creative solutions.” Przem says.
“Our third session involves pupils designing their own house,” says Grace. “It entails the children recreating the layout of their homes in a shoebox, thinking about where things like pipes, water, electricity and heating should go. The children have been really inventive during the task – they’ve created whole water systems around their houses using straws. The task really helps them to think about how engineering affects their world and their surroundings.”
The fourth session encourages children to think about bridges – their purpose, structure and how they benefit communities. The engineers and teachers work with the students to help them understand the impact that bridges have on everyday life, as well as thinking about how they are constructed. With the aim of ensuring all sessions are kept as practical as possible, the pupils are set a task to build their own bridge, using triangles made out of coffee sticks connected by blue tac and sellotape to form the basis of their structure. “The children are tasked with building a strong structure, but they can also make the bridge their own too – we’ve seen some very interesting designs, including a ‘dog’ bridge complete with flaps for ears,” Grace explains.
The sustainability unit helps children to think about things such as global warming, recycling and lowing energy consumption. “Our session on sustainability aims to build on the knowledge that the children already have, as well as raising more awareness of the issues and helping them see the wider picture.” Grace outlines. “The children learn about vertical gardens, which can have a particular impact in inner city locations, and make their own hanging gardens out of bottles and string. They look after these over the summer term.”
The final session brings together everything the children have learnt over the year. Przem explains, “The pupils are asked to design their ideal school. They need to build the structure for their school and think about the floor plans and where things would go.” The students are given guidance rather than instruction, allowing them to think about engineering concepts while adding their own personal touch to their designs. “We’ve seen some very creative ideas – wind turbines on top of structures, swimming pools, full sized football pitches…the session gives the pupils a chance to use their construction skills in an imaginative way. We’ve been able to see from this session that the children have really taken on board what they’ve learned throughout the year.”
The eventual goal for the programme is to make it available to more schools. Working closely with the pupils and teachers at Whitehall Primary, the engineers have been able to improve supporting materials so that teachers can comfortably run the sessions independently. To find out more about the programme and how to get involved, email email@example.com.