Been there, done that...this is new

8th September 2000 at 01:00
How the transition from primary to secondary design and technology can be smoothed by assessment activities.

This term, last year's top juniors are taking their first anxious steps in an unfamiliar secondary school environment, while their new teachers are trying to get to know them as quickly as possible and make the most of their previous experience.

This is not an easy job. The children may be keen and eager, excited by the prospect of specialist design and technology equipment and materials, but for their teachers it is difficult to decide where to start. Pupils arrive from primary schools with widely varied skills and experiences.

In the past, many teachers started again from scratch. Generations of first year secondary pupils began by drawing boxes (which they had previously been taught to call rectangles), measuring them in millimetres (though they were more used to centimetres), and producing mystifying "developments" (which turned out to be the "nets" they had been drawing for years in maths).

Although secondary school facilities look very different from the primary school version, the types of activity taking place are not. The new Year 7s have been doing Damp;T for at least six years. They have evaluated products, developed knowledge and skills, and designed and made products in a range of materials. The QCA Damp;T scheme of work for key stages 1 and 2 gives good examples of the sort of projects children tackle before they enter a secondary school.

At the beginning of the new school year, faced with a class of 11-year-olds, what do teachers need to know? One thing that can help is knowing what tools and equipment the pupils are familiar with, but it rarely matters whether a particular pupil has used, say, a glue gun, only roughly how many in the class have done so. Simply showing the glue gun and asking who has used one will give an instant indication of whether a full introduction is needed, or one couched as a reminder of safety and use. Pupils are happy to be reminded of how to use something, but they lose confidence, and eventually interest, if their own knowledge is continually ignored.

To speed up the process of checking on a range of tools and materials, we - three independent education consultants and a primary teacher - have produced Bridging the Gap, a set of transition materials for Year 7 teachers. It includes an illustrated worksheet for this purpose, which also invites the pupils to say what they have used them for, and whether at home or at school. Other important skills in Damp;T can be examined in the same way. For example, the pupils' ability to sequence the stages in a simple making process can be observed through a "cut and paste" exercise. Pupils cut up sentences describing the process, for example Bridging the Gap uses making an omelette, or any process suited to the area of work, then paste them in the right order. If you wander round the room as they are doing their exercise you quickly gain a sense of the overall achievement level of the group, plus information on those who seem to be working particularly fast or slowly.

One activity that has created a lot of interest in our trial schools is the Best Project. This asks pupils to draw and write about their favourite project in primary school. Looking at these can be a revelation: children may remember exactly what materials they used, the problems they had and the triumphs, and the work may be from three or four years earlier! Secondary teachers have been surprised by the commitment shown by the pupils, and by their capability to carry out (in some cases) a sustained and complex piece of designing and making. This information is valuable in deciding what level of challenge to set to new pupils, and to begin to predict who in a class may need extra help or extra scoe.

The Bridging the Gap approach provides a menu of activities that can be done in any room or workshop, which teachers choose from to find out what they want to know about their new Year 7s. The whole set provides three to four weeks' work, including homework. The activities are straightforward, and pupils enjoy them, and like showing their new teachers what they can do. The activities cover the whole range of designing and making at this level. For example, the first activity is about health and safety. Instead of providing pupils with lists of rules for the new workshops, it asks pupils to compare their new environment with their old one, and to suggest what safety rules apply.

The children are immediately active, drawing on their previous knowledge, and showing how well they have understood the reasons for safe behaviour. It is easy then for the teacher to help them add new rules to the old ones.

Bridging the Gap focuses on the beginning of Year 7. There are also other valuable, and complementary, approaches to smoothing transition. Some junior children put together a portfolio of examples of work to show to their new teachers. This works well with careful planning in the junior schools and a real effort in the secondary school, because failure to make use of the portfolios causes deep disappointment on the part of the children.

Another approach with similar benefits and pitfalls has children starting an assignment in junior school and continuing it in their new secondary schools. It can be difficult with large numbers of feeder schools, but children see real continuity between the subject they have been studying and the one they will be continuing until GCSE.

For most schools, a mix of approaches helps. Long-term relationships with feeder schools create warm working relationships, visits for pupils alleviate the anxiety of transition, and targeted activities at the start of Year 7 provide the focused induction for pupils and information for teachers that sets KS3 off to a good start.


Anne Waldon, Ali Farrell and Julie Mantell are education consultants specialising in design and technology, and Julian Barnard is deputy headteacher at Drayton School, Banbury, Oxfordshire. Bridging the Gap is published by the Centre for Research in Primary Technology, pound;20. To obtain copies contact Professor Clare Benson, CRIPT, University of Central England at Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3TN. Tel: 0121 331 6100


* Consider an introductory programme of short, discrete activities rather than a full-blown designing and making assignment. Short activities provide lots of targeted information which allows you to plan future work to suit pupils' current level of achievement.

* Try to find out about pupil attitudes and experiences as well as their skills and know-ledge by offering them opportunities to explain what they have done before. The information will help you get the best from the pupils.

* Setting some activities that the pupils can get on with largely on their own allows you to observe them working, look at their work, and begin to get to know them individually.

* When you introduce ideas, tools and equipment, check whether anyone has used them already. Acknowledging prior learning helps pupils' self-confidence and saves time.

* Pupils may have come across things before but used different terminology. Checking this can save confusion and frustration on both sides.

* Seek opportunities to get to know teachers in your primary feeders. Working alongside them in their classes, and inviting them to join you in yours, can create a two-way traffic of ideas and understanding, which feeds into better teaching of transition pupils on both sides.

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