There are some amazing flowers "growing" in a classroom at Stilton Primary School, near Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. Some have petals that look like sweets; others look like teddy bears, snakes, dogs, doughnuts, spaceships and even aliens. The flowers are part of a major project developed by the Nuffield Foundation, which aims to raise the profile of design and technology in primary schools.
David Barlex, one of the project's directors, explains the rationale behind it: "The emphasis on literacy and numeracy means there's a danger that other subjects are being squeezed. These subjects are important: Damp;T is an immensely powerful way of learning, and it can help kids become more autonomous." He adds: "We want to keep Damp;T alive because once something disappears from the curriculum, it's difficult to get it back."
The main issue, says David Barlex, isn't about producing materials for pupils but creating materials for teachers and helping them become more confident in Damp;T. The project's materials have been written by teachers, teacher-trainers and advisers, and revisions and adaptations have been made as a result of feedback from trial schools and evaluations made by the Open University's School of Education.
The first phase of the Nuffield Primary Design and Technology Project, involving 20 schools, took place in 1997. The second phase began last year, with 100 schools taking part. The OU's evaluation of this phase was very positive, noting that the materials supported both teachers and pupils. What's more, the work was enjoyable.
There is certainly a lot of hard work and fun in the classroom of Donna Jefferson, Damp;T co-ordinator at Stilton Primary. The class is a mixed group of Year 4 and 5 pupils, aged eight to 10. The children are sitting in small groups around tables laden with fabrics, scissors, felt tips, pens, pipe cleaners, glue and glitter. Their concentration is evident as they cut out their designs, glue pieces of material together and carefully construct their flowers.
Stilton Primary got involved in the Nuffield project as a result of its links with Sawtry Community College, a local secondary school. Julie Messenger, the Damp;T co-ordinator at Sawtry, asked Donna Jefferson if her school would be interested in joining the trial. "It sounded interesting and there was some small financial assistance involved," says Donna Jefferson. "But this wasn't the main reason for taking part. Subjects such as Damp;T, the arts and PE are a part of Curriculum 2000, and we need to find a place for them."
Year 6 did one of the first projects at Stilton. "The children did research on different types of bread and packaging, and also made their own bread," says Donna Jefferson. Years 3 and 4 took part in a project on pop-up books, which included learning about pop-up mechanisms, designing a book, deciding on a target audience, making a story and creating a book. Although this project was also successful, there has been the odd hiccup: another on fabric trees was aimed at reception classes but found to be too difficult.
Today's lesson is on the theme of "Fantasy Flowers", which grew out of materials for a project known as "Fabulous Flowers". Some of the project course materials arrived late, and by that time, a teacher taking the lessons had got the children to design their own fantasy flowers. "When we got the materials we discovered this wasn't in the original scheme. But we liked the Fantasy Flower work so much that we decided to stick with it," explains Donna Jefferson.
The work on Fantasy Flowers occupied the whole of the spring term, with the research work and practical activities each taking around 50 per cent of the lesson time. The children looked at flowers, drew them and took them apart. They then talked about their ideal fantasy flower, designed it and then created it.
Elizabeth Sheirley, 10, has made a cleaning flower, with a stem made from a broomstick, and the petals in the shape of dust pans and brushes. And the inspiration for such a flower? "My mum never stops cleaning," explains Elizabeth.
Allen Lampkin, 9, has made a basketball flower, while Rachel Smith, 10, has made a food flower including her favourite fare - chocolates, sweets and chips. Alexander Rush, 8, has created a teddy bear flower, and Alastair Dann, 10, a flower of monster aliens.
The imagination and creativity of the children's work is breathtaking and it's little wonder that an Office for Standards in Education inspection was impressed by the Damp;T work being done here.
At the end of each project, the children are given an evaluation sheet to complete, which asks them to comment on issues such as how their design worked, the most difficult areas, and what they could do to improve their work. Donna Jefferson admits that when she first saw the Nuffield materials, she was a little concerned. "They seemed to be very rigid, but the non-specialist teachers thought they were great," she says. "They said 'why hasn't anybody given us something like this before? It's got all the objectives listed and it tells us how to manage things in the classroom.' And if you're a Damp;T specialist, you can always adapt the materials to suit your needs."
To reach as many primary teachers as possible, the Nuffield Foundation has created a website which includes resources that can be downloaded, frequently asked questions, a glossary of Damp;T terms, as well as examples of work completed by trial schools and a forum for teachers to exchange ideas and information. Donna Jefferson has no doubts about the project's value:
"It has transformed the Damp;T work in our school, and made a big difference to both the pupils and teachers."
David Barlex and Jane Mitra, the directors of the Nuffield Primary Design and Technology Project, can be contacted on 0171 436 4412. The Nuffield Foundation's Damp;T website is at: www.nuffield.orgprimaryDandTThere are also live links to the site via the Virtual Teacher Centre website and the National Grid for Learning.