"Britain since 1930" is a popular primary study unit which can look at the impact of either the Second World War or social and technological change since 1930. Pupils could do a study of their own area looking for evidence of the developments mentioned, ribbon developments, suburban housing with parking and garage space, new road layouts.
Pupils might use libraries to see whether their locality had the same patterns of accidents as the statistics given here. Archivists usually love helping with a specific query such as this.
Art and design
Encourage pupils to research the car in contemporary art.
Group activity: roll out clay slabs to construct a simple open car. Make figures to sit in it. Visit a scrapyard with a sketchbook and explore theme of disintegration and decay.
How can speed be conveyed? Look at American automobiles of the Fifties - use as a basis for designs emphasising the car as an aggressive power symbol.
Make drawings in pen and ink of small car parts and amalgamate them to create a fantasy machine.
Safety (for key stage 3 especially) often seems repetitive. A good opportunity to draw parallels between lab rules and road rules, chemical hazard symbols and clear road signs.
At KS4 physics, applications in light, could range from bicycle reflectors to reflective clothing. Forces (at KS4 and for brighter KS3 pupils) can be explored in car safety crumple zones, seat belts (calculate those Newtons and be impressed) and air bags.
Energy in KS3 often covers alternative fuels. Environmental and green issues are good to grab imagination so move them on from fuels to pollution. You can include basic combustion in KS3. Stretch the challenge to renewable cars. Bring in modern materials (KS4 polymers) for the renewable car. Don't forget global warming, but get KS4 students to think of solutions, not just problems.
Data-handling: research how the cost of different sizes of cars has changed since the Thirties. Record the findings in graphs and pie charts. Gather information on the relationship between speed and stopping distances. Record this in ways that make the greatest impact.
History: interview parents and grandparents about how the car has changed in their lifetime. Do they remember petrol rationing? What was their first car like? What do they remember about road safety education?
Technology: investigate what is tested in the MOT (many garages will give you a copy of their checklist). Some garages have viewing areas and will let pupils watch the test. How has this changed in recent years?
Design: look at car adverts in newspapers and on TV. Make a list of safety features or environmentally friendly aspects of the car that are stressed as selling points. Design your own advert stressing similar points.
Geography: look at a town plan. Identify ways planners have taken the needs of motorists and pedestrians into account as the area has developed (parking, bridges, retail centres). Find what you have to do to pass the driving test. Older pupils enjoy taking a mock theory test. Find how this has changed in recent years. Explore some of the questions and answers. Some computer programs simulate driving.
Citizenship: pupils discuss how they think cars will change. If they were in government what laws would they change? Pupils can discuss how adults can make their area safer and discuss their ideas with local authority representatives. Many local councillors will come into school to talk to children.
The fundamental problem of making a safe, efficient and non-polluting self-propelled vehicle throws up a range of challenges that can be studied by all age groups. Along the way, students can look at some of the key technological innovations. Designing a car that won't hurt the person it hits produces imaginative responses from younger children. Road engineering is also a design study of systems - moving traffic around a given area in the most efficient way without hurting people. The traffic patterns outside school are a good place to start and it's possible to go further than just counting cars.
The confrontation between government control and freedom to drive has existed throughout the history of the motor vehicle. This and the working of lobby and interest groups can be studied.
What are the moral issues involved in balancing the pleasure and convenience of driving against the certainty that we are killing and injuring many thousands, including children? Pupils of all ages can take part in this debate.
Teaching tips by Ben Walsh, John Bowden, John Dexter, Mike Beale and Gerald Haigh