Showcase of the feel-good factor

4th November 2005 at 00:00
A Northamptonshire initiative has united schools in a blaze of creativity, as Mike Levy reports

Transforming teaching and learning through ICT in schools may seem like a tall order. But judging by a recent event in Northamptonshire this seems like an accurate motto for a day's celebration of CadCam in schools. The event, organised by Jon Parker, county adviser for DT in Northamptonshire, was the culmination of a year's work by schools in the Wellingborough and East Northants area.

How did it come about? "Northamptonshire DT curriculum advisory team was invited to bid for project funding as part of the ICT in Schools Standards Fund," says Jon Parker. "The work with a cluster of schools in the Wellingborough and East Northants area is part of an Area School Improvement. The focus of the bid was to secure for students a progression of knowledge, skills and understanding of Cad (computer-aided design) and Cam (computer-aided manufacture) as they move through key stages 1-5."

Support came from the Design and Technology Association (DATA) to hold the showcase celebration at the end of a very busy year for the schools involved. The showcase of work took place at the Wellingborough Castle venue at the end of June and its main hall was packed with displays of work done by pupils of all ages. The main message was that it is never too early (or late) to embrace CadCam. The work shown was, according to one independent observer: "The best I have seen anywhere in the UK".

The hall was packed with the exhibits of schools in WellingboroughEast Northants that had been using CadCam to design and make all manner of colourful and, above all, practical products using a wide range of materials including food, graphics, resistant materials and textiles. Among the most colourful products were textile notebook covers made by Year 5 pupils at Finedon Mulso Church of England School in Wellingborough, who had used RM's Colour Magic software linked to a PC-friendly sewing machine.

Another charming textile product also using Colour Magic was a series of finger puppets made by Year 2 children at South End Infants School in Rushden. The same schools also made some fun money containers with specially designed logos shaped with a vinyl cutter. At the other end of the age range, there were colourful handbags and lamp shades made by Year 10 students of Wollaston School in Wellingborough using sublimation-printed fabrics with laser cut handles using 2D design tools.

Meanwhile, the KS4 team from Huxlow Science College in Irthlingborough produced a trendy dress with large red stripes and pretty floral designs using a CadCam sewing machine. The DT department had been working on the project for a year and the event was a good way to showcase their efforts.

The department now plans to incorporate more CadCam into schemes of work for next year.

On an even tastier note, Year 9s from the Wrenn School in Wellingborough brought decorated homemade biscuits with designs printed with edible inks.

The designs, produced on Microsoft Word, were made for the local McDonald's to use for birthday parties.

The exhibition ran alongside a series of talks by DT teachers who have had a rich experience with CadCam in the classroom. Gareth Pimley, Shropshire County Council's adviser for DT, gave one of the liveliest presentations.

A real enthusiast for CadCam in schools, he was clearly impressed by what he saw at Wellingborough. "The standard of work shown by the local schools is quite exceptional and shows what can be done if there is real support for CadCam in the authority". His presentation looked at how CadCam can be introduced into primary schools. This opening talk was suitably placed as the subtitle for the day was "Securing a progression of computer aided design and computer aided manufacture across KS1-5".

Gareth Pimley reminded his audience that, according to Ofsted: "Overall, ICT is more widely and better used in DT than in other subjects". The subject, he said, had wider applications too: "In primary schools, Cad can be used to develop, communicate, model and evaluate children's design ideas. For particular units of KS12 work, using Cad with simple Cam can improve the accuracy and appearance of children's products." He also outlined the types of software typically used for Cad in primary schools.

These include, he said, general-purpose "paint" software, specialist Cad software for producing scale drawings, and simulation software that enables the modelling of components on the computer screen. General-purpose paint software is, he said, very versatile, allowing children to use stamp tools and finishing techniques. He showed some excellent examples of work done by KS1 children including the design of triangular packaging for toothpaste.

By KS2, Gareth Pimley adds, children can go on to use specialist Cad software where objects can be selected, moved, copied, enlarged, rotated and deleted. He illustrated how one bit of nifty software, West Point Bridge Designer, can be used to teach pupils how to build a road bridge that is likely to stay up when heavy traffic uses it. It provides pupils with the tools to model, test, and optimise a steel highway bridge, based on realistic specifications, constraints, and performance criteria. If the bridge is too weak, the simulated lorries using it plunge into a virtual ravine.

Was the event worthwhile? Jon Parker has no doubts: "There was a real 'feel good' factor in evidence as the teachers were able to share the achievements and progress of their students with both colleagues from the participant schools, schools across the county and senior managers from their own schools. Three of the schools have already agreed to buy their departments a laser cutter! Other schools have realised the benefits of working as a cluster and have agreed to jointly purchase Cam equipment to use within their area partnership. Probably our biggest achievement has been to recognise and demonstrate that progression in Cad and Cam is about using ICT to enhance DT across the breadth of the subject area, and this was clearly evident by the range and quality of products manufactured in food, graphics, resistant materials and textiles."

* DT Softwaredemonstrations

Flowol 2

www.data-harvest.co.uk

Mechanical toysfairground

www.focuseducational.com

Primary Design

www.techsoftuk.co.uk

Crocodile Clips Elementary

www.crocodile-clips.com

Wild Things (pattern making software)

www.wildginger.com

West Point Bridge Designer bridgecontest.usma.edudownload.htm

Wondawheelz

www.wondawheelz.com

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