Primary DT - Fast Forward Thinking

21st November 2008 at 00:00
Joining a project to develop a speedy car powered by kinetic energy paid all sorts of dividends, Samantha Brown discovered

It was a top secret mission. Not even my head knew what I was working on with my group of nine to 11-year-olds.

The challenge was to design and make a vehicle that used stored kinetic energy to go in a straight line as quickly as possible. What they didn't know was that their work would feed into a great British adventure - Bloodhound SSC, the supersonic car designed to break the world land speed record. If it succeeds, the driver will be the first to break the 1,000mph barrier.

We were piloting curriculum materials, code-named Red Dog from Primary Engineer, to support the record breaking attempt that could see Andy Green (above), a Royal Air Force pilot, travel 1.4 times the speed of sound - fast enough to get from Land's End to John O'Groats in 51 minutes.

The Pounds 10 million Bloodhound SSC engineer adventure is supported by an education programme sponsored by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. So what my pupils were doing was crucial.

My group investigated ways of controlling movement, discovering that rubber bands were more reliable than, for example, balloons. They researched the shape of vehicles designed for speed and noticed that they tended to be wedge shaped. This led into an aerodynamics investigation.

As they built their vehicles, the children developed abilities to apply maths and science concepts. I emphasised the need for accuracy when measuring, cutting and constructing and, as a result, all of them can now not only use a ruler correctly, but are able to measure to the nearest millimetre and check angles.

The children encountered several problems during the six-week project, such as wheels spinning due to a lack of traction. They worked to solve them, using results from investigations and knowledge gained so far. Some found that adding mass in particular areas helped, others modified the wheels.

They were thrilled to discover Bloodhound SSC, which will be 42ft long, 9ft high, weigh 6.4 tonnes and have a top speed of 1,050mph, has issues with its wheels too.

We were invited to the launch of the Bloodhound Project, at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, last month and the children were only told about the land speed record attempt on the morning of our departure. Some children drew up questions for the team - mostly asking them for advice about improvements to their vehicles.

When I reviewed what the children had learnt from their project, they noticed that they had been developing understanding, not only in design and technology, but in maths and science. They called it learning in secret - I think they meant by stealth.

They came up with a variety of solutions to solve the many and varied problems. They have now tweaked their designs and have vehicles that run quickly and in a straight line.

Now, however, they have found another issue - the vehicles run forwards and then reverse slightly at the end of the run. As they want perfection, this simply won't do, so further investigations are underway.

- Red Dog resources will be available from December through www.primaryengineer.com.

- Find out more about Bloodhound SSC by visiting www.bloodhoundssc.com. Activities, resources and visits will available from early next year

Samantha Brown leads design and technology at Harwood Meadows Primary School in Bolton. She is also a lead teacher for design and technology in Bolton Council and a member of the Design and Technology Association primary advisory group.

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