Designing and making in one concentrated effort can be a rewarding experience. Carolyn O'Grady visits a primary that makes it possible
For three days each term, Victoria Park Primary School in Smethwick, Sandwell is a hive of design and technology activity. Last November, for example, Year 6 were working on models of fairground rides.
On the first day, they did some research - talking and looking at pictures - and practised skills-based tasks, such as joining methods, that would help them build the model. On the second day they began putting together the drive-belt system that will propel the ride and constructing the model around it. On the third day they continued this work and evaluated what they had achieved.
The rest of the school was also immersed in Damp;T - Year 1 were making pizzas; Year 3 were constructing photograph frames; Year 4 were investigating packaging; Year 5 were doing the same for slippers. A special needs group was designing and making a model house. At Victoria Park School, these Damp;T bonanzas happen every term, for this is how the school prefers to cover the curriculum for that subject. All the statutory requirements for Damp;T are fulfilled during these two or three-day block units.
"This way everybody's attention is on the subject and an atmosphere created which stimulates excitement", says headteacher Martin Davies. "It gives the children an opportunity to go through the whole process without being interrupted. We can design and make in three days, and it lets us maximise resources."
"The trouble with doing Damp;T throughout the term is that you start a project, but then find you can't finish it in a lesson," adds Chris Perry, science and Damp;T co-ordinator. "There's lots of half-finished models around the place and paperwork gets lost. Doing it like this we save a lot of time otherwise spent in putting things away and getting them out again, and it encourages teachers to confront aspects of the curriculum they might be tempted to shy away from because they lack confidence. During the three days they can get the support they need from me or from each other."
It was also easier differentiate, as special needs groups could do separate projects. Moreover, this way of working "appears to be raising attainment levels", says Chris Perry. "The current Year 6 is the first group to go through four years of our new style of teaching in blocked units and teacher assessment shows a marked improved percentage of children estimated to be at level 4".
This year all but Year 2 took part. Victoria Park has 600 pupils on roll, 60 per cent of whom have free school meals. It has a special enhanced learning provision unit for children with emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties. The school only very recently became a primary school, combining an infant and a junior school on adjoining sites, and Year 2 has not yet been introduced to this new way of working in Damp;T. But everywhere else it's Damp;T and more Damp;T. A tour of the school reveals a special needs group making a threedimensional house which they have designed themselves for Fuzzbuzz (a children's character from Oxford University Press). The work has involved a lot of hand-eye co-ordination and maths, including measuring. Later they will label it and discuss what materials you need to make a real house.
Children in Year 5 are making slippers, using wadding, fabric and a template which they have drawn round. Earlier on they had discussed the purpose of slippers; practised various types of stitches and taken apart different types to see how they were made.
Year 4 are looking at packaging; practising cutting and producing "nets" - flat representations which can be folded and joined to make three-dimensional articles such as cubes and prisms. Their goal is to make a box to hold 50g of pasta. In Year 3 they are making photo frames, cutting out interesting shapes - for example, heart shapes - to show off their chosen picture. Later they will glue that to acetate and make a wooden frame.
Even during morning break, which children have in their classrooms, they continue making their models or other products and discussing them as they chomp on their snacks. It's the same in the staffroom. The teachers are all discussing their progress with various projects, exchanging and looking for ideas. Damp;T has taken hold everywhere.
Organising Damp;T in blocked units
* Rewrite existing planning to split the work into chunks of the day. For example, the first morning might be for research and exploration of existing ideas. The afternoon could focus on skill-based activities. The second day could be for designing and making the design brief. The third day for testing, evaluating and modifying.
* Check which resources are required by the different year groups. If they need the same equipment at the same time, you may need to buy more.
Overestimate the amount of materials necessary - better to have too much than to run out.
* Make friends with the cleaners, so they co-operate over extra mess.
* Record all work thoroughly on paper and on film to provide evidence that Damp;T is taught in the school.
* Work with the Senco to ensure that every class gets the necessary support.
* Be flexible in relation to the needs of less able pupils.
Autumn: photograph frames (focus: structures in wood)
Spring: money containers (focus: textiles)
Summer: sandwiches (focus: food)
Autumn: packaging (focus: structures in card)
Spring: pneumatics - business-linked project (focus: air-powered control)
Summer: cams (focus: mechanical control)
Autumn: slippers (focus: textiles)
Spring: pop-up books (focus: levers)
Summer: torches (focus: electrical control)
Autumn: fairground rides (focus: electronic computer control) (This year, because the school's computers had been stolen, the focus was electrical control. Normally, the children would replace the switch in their circuit by putting in a computer-link and use a piece of software to turn the fairground ride on and off.)
Spring: bread (focus: food)
Summer: towers (focus: structures in a variety of materials)