A model way to learn

Mix flour, cocoa, coconut and porridge oats in a prepared Lego kit. Add some colouring, sugar and a dash of water. Then squirt in washing-up liquid.

This is probably not the best recipe to use if you want to impress your friends with a spot of nouvelle cuisine. But they are ideal ingredients to whet the appetite of pupils learning how to make and test models of a canteen mixer, electric and hand whisks and a food processor.

This was one method that a small team of teachers from my school used to explore the possibilities of relating food to work with mechanisms, systems and control.

As part of the developmental work, they piloted a module with Year 9 pupils, using Lego kits to help them see how mechanisms work.

Out of the group of 20 pupils at this all-girls' school, only two had access to construction kits at home. Their experience of modelling with them was limited to work in resistant materials.

The module was about labour-saving devices and focused on machines found in the kitchen and in industry. The school canteen was chosen because it could introduce pupils to machinery which is a larger version of what is found in the food technology department and a visit could be arranged in one lesson.

They saw the big mixer being used for a variety of foods, whisking cheesecake, kneading doughnut mixture and making a biscuit mix using different attachments. They also had a demonstration of the slicinggrating machine which related well to the food processor.

The machine operators taught the pupils about the importance of control, the reason for using different speeds with industrial mixers, safety devices and why machines must be able to be raised and lowered easily.

They experimented with eggs, whisking whites in different ways and making and evaluating sponges made by various methods.

When we came to the Lego kits, the pupils worked in pairs to make models of the kitchen equipment. They experimented with a variety of food to see which of the models worked and how to alter the designs of those that did not mix food well.

The adaptation of a basic drill to convert it into a whisk resulted in great ingenuity and a close examination of hand whisks to see if they could copy the gears.

Was it a useful exercise? The girls enjoyed the module. They said it gave them confidence to "invent" something and they could try it out to see if it worked. They also discovered that sometimes machines work better when they go in one direction, that the speed of electrical equipment needs to be controlled and that the design of the "blades" of whisks affects efficiency. They also saw the application of gears and mechanisms with their models.

Rita Evans teaches food technology at Hodge Hill Girls School, Birmingham

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