A one-hop centre for toolbox safety

Paul Burton

Paul Burton says experience, observation and involvement are the only effective ways to teach DT, regardless of Orders. Do you like my kangaroo?" I looked down at a beaming face with a smudge of green paint on one cheek, big brown eyes looking up full of anticipation. Clutched tightly in her small hands was the proverbial egg box covered with paint, tissue paper, strands of wool, the tubes of two kitchen rolls stuck on for good measure and dripping with a liberal coating of glue. "It's lovely," I said to the beaming smile, which got even bigger. Who was I to argue, for that little girl had created her favourite animal.

We then immersed ourselves in a deep conversation about how kangaroos move and made our plans to make this one hop. Armed with a balloon, a piece of polythene tubing and a small cable tie we soon had Tracy kangaroo hopping around, even if it was slightly lopsided. Inevitably, like any good idea, this one soon caught on and I was surrounded by hopping fish, hopping giraffes, hopping tortoises and hopping lions.

Having established my "street cred" with the reception classes, the after-school meeting began in a lively manner with staff voicing concerns about ways of providing progression in design and technology. "Hopping animals may be all right as a one-off, but how do I tackle the same theme with Year 6 when I don't know what tools I should be using?" was one impassioned plea.

Not wanting to take an ostrich approach, we began to explore this and other issues such as when resistant material such as pine wood strips should be introduced into the classroom. How old should children be before they can use saws, drills or hole punches? Are wooden frames with card corner triangles the only way to make buggies?

Progression of pupils' DT learning experience appears to be easily achievable, but in the reality of the crowded classroom where space is at a premium, the story can be very different. The organisation, presentation and storage of tools and equipment are essential for quality DT experiences.

A box full of jumbled saws, screwdrivers, files, glasspaper and bits of balsa tucked away in a corner, to emerge only when the jungle drums indicate that someone from the Office for Standards in Education is approaching, is not ideal or safe. If tools and equipment are in a poor condition, more force is required to get them to cut. This causes pupils to over exert themselves and mishaps occur more frequently.

Essex education authority, jointly with the Colchester-based firm, Newtec, and primary school teachers, has been developing a solution. The aim is to tackle which tools are appropriate for which key stage and how to store them safely.

Two separate self-contained DT tool units for key stage l and 2 have been designed by Jane Wheeldon of Essex LEA and tried out in the county's schools. The units have shadow outlines of the names of the specific tools and this word-picture association reinforces the use of technical vocabulary with young children, which the revised Order says should be a feature at key stage 1 and 2.

The unit is portable, can be stored on a wall or on the end of a cupboard, and is stable enough to be used on a table top. Support materials give guidance about the levels at which tools, materials, skills, joining methods and concepts should be introduced.

So in future when Year 6 make their pneumatic lifts and cranes using syringes and motorised transport for moving the reception classes' animals back to the jungle, everyone will have hopefully had a safe, happy and secure DT practical experience.

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