Here's one we made

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Build bridges with local professionals by inviting them into your classroom - and pupils will realise how their ideas could become reality. Karen Mackenzie reports

We needed an inspiring way to combine a practical activity on "Materials and their properties" with the skill of problem solving. Enter a handful of graduate engineers from Selex Engineering in Basildon...

We have a history of working with engineering companies and, this spring, a recent recruit from Selex contacted us to arrange for a group of his colleagues to work for an afternoon with our Year 2s.

After a brief discussion about learning objectives for key stage 1, I was told that the group would plan the lesson and that they would provide all resources. The Selex staff duly arrived laden with materials, careful plans and heaps of enthusiasm.

They began by explaining the work that engineers do and then talked about bridge design. They showed photographs of bridges and named the different types of construction. Suspension and cantilever proved the most memorable: long words are always more interesting to seven-year-olds.

The children were then split into groups and set the task of trying to build a bridge between two tables. The engineers gave them a variety of materials, and planning pro-formas on which to create a possible design.

Excited discussion about whether to use lolly sticks, spaghetti, paper, card or string then began. Once the groups had agreed on a design, they began to build their bridges - not as easy as they had thought.

Using weights to assess the strength of the bridges was the next stage and the children then carried out an evaluation of their work.

Despite the best efforts of the children, rather a lot of broken spaghetti remained on the carpet (our engineers were very handy with dustpans and brushes and made mental notes to avoid fragile pasta in the future). But the children loved the activity and we hope to repeat the afternoon soon.

Seize opportunities to work with the local industry and don't feel that five to seven-year-olds are too young to train as engineers Karen Mackenzie is head of Hilltop Infant School, Wickham, Essex


* To learn that there is a range of materials with different characteristics.

* To learn that materials are chosen for specific purposes on the basis of their properties.

* To suggest how to test an idea about whether materials are suitable for a particular purpose.

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