Musical remix

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Try combining creative arts and technology in a single project, says David Alderson.

For many primary teachers, design and technology is a subject that inspires fear. Yet exciting technology projects, especially if run with creative arts activities, can be a great antidote to all those literacy and numeracy hours. More importantly, the children love them. They say things like:

"Sometimes you use things that you have never used before," and "It's very good for people with very big imaginations."

Over the past two years, the children in the class I job share have progressed through Years 4 and 5, and some of the most fun they have had has come from design and technology work. Perhaps the two most successful projects were designing and making a moving vehicle and designing and making a musical instrument.

To be successful, a design and technology project requires a lot of planning across the year group. For the musical instrument project, our Year 5 teachers, with the support of the school's technology co-ordinator, devised activities to be interesting, simple and clear for both the teachers and children.

First, the children looked at pictures of musical instruments from different cultures to determine common "families", shapes and structures as well as the main materials used in their construction.

Using a CD-Rom and working in pairs, the children found out more about their favourite musical instruments and listened to them being played, before choosing which they wanted to design and make.

Next the children sketched their own instrument designs. Sometimes they combined instruments such as the guiro and maracas, or made a small copy of the more traditional ones such as the guitar. Then they listed materials that they needed to make their designs.

A period of collection from home and school followed. Over the next few days, a corner of the classroom filled up with boxes, bin liners and wood.

Actual making took three one-hour sessions over three consecutive days. Everyone in the class made their instruments in pairs with the help of various tools, glues, assistants and - invaluably - parent helpers.

Finally, the wholeprocess was reviewed in a plenary session. The children were thrilled to play their individual instruments, with some parental help and tuition, as part of the "technology orchestra".

There are some general rules of good practice in primary school design and technology teaching to maximise fun and safety in the classroom:

* Introduce the use of certain tools, such as the saw, over a period of time. As in PE, there are "warm-up" activities you can do with such tools to ensure you are teaching the children their safe and correct use, but always start with a whole-class teacher demonstration of the dos and don'ts. Ensuing lessons should then include brief, clear reminders on tool safety issues.

* Encourage the children to "disassemble" in their minds and on paper the machines they come across every day. Many of these now have microchips at their heart but just as many still have cogs, levers and other mechanisms that children can draw inspiration from and copy.

* Use all the adult help available to you, especially parent help. Our musical instruments project was extremely well-supported by parents both at home and in school. Some children completed their instruments at home, with parents' help. Parent support in class centred on help with choosing materials and demonstrating the use of tools. To round off the project, one parent, who is also a guitar teacher, gave a demonstration of his skills and conducted our "technology orchestra".

Think of all the new national curriculum attainment targets you will be hitting. From "developing, planning and communicating ideas" to "evaluating processes and products", "working with tools" and gaining "knowledge and understanding of materials and components", you will not only be ensuring that your pupils meet the new design and technology targets, but also some of the new cross-curricular ones as well.

There could be no better endorsements than those from the children in the class, which range from: "Using tools makes you feel grown up," to a more prosaic "It makes a change from maths." And I enjoy it too.

David Alderson is deputy head at Hazelwood junior school, Enfield, north London

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