Together we can make it

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Everyone benefits when secondary schools share their expertise and experience, writes Chris Fautley

The Roman philosopher Seneca said: "There is no delight in owning anything unless shared." We may never know whether or not this statement was meant to include knowledge, but design and technology staff at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls in Kent have embraced his sentiment in every sense. Now in its second year, the school's Denford Project aims to extend the learning opportunities enjoyed by grammar school students to local key stage 2 teachers and pupils.

Named after the Yorkshire company that provides computer-assisted designmanufacturing (CADCAM) training equipment to schools, the project's aims are achieved in two ways. First it trains teachers (who later train pupils) how to use Techsoft 2D Design, a basic CAD package; and second it shares equipment - in particular a virtual reality CNC (computer numeric controlled) milling machine, which helps produce designs.

Denford's main input has been with the initial training of Damp;T staff, the provision of hardware and support for staff from all the schools involved.

Rosie Owen, textiles teacher and project co-ordinator, says outreach work is an important part of the school's Beacon remit.

"It's an obvious choice for us to go to our primary feeder schools and to give them opportunities," she says, observing that many primaries suffer from a lack of resources and adequate Damp;T training. She adds that there are positive benefits for the school. "I've been teaching for 23 years in secondary schools, and to have the benefit of going out and seeing what's happening has made me a better key stage 3 teacher without a doubt," she says.

Her students have also benefited from working with Year 7 students, who have already been through the project and acted as mentors to primary pupils. Sixth-formers have also been out to primary schools to offer support and assisted when primary pupils have visited the school. This has allowed the students to become more familiar with the hardware and software, made them more confident and helped hone their interpersonal skills.

The project was launched last autumn when seven KS2 teachers were trained by secondary Damp;T staff to use the programs that drive Denford's CNC milling machine. Once proficient, the grammar school purchased software for use in the primary schools, where children worked on their own designs for key fobs, name plates or bookmarks. The primary pupils then visited the grammar school to see their work produced on the milling machine, or had it produced remotely via floppy disk.

Anne Chalk is a teacher at Roseacre junior school in Bearstead. Her Year 6 pupils designed bookmarks on laptop computers in their own school, then sent them via floppy disk to the secondary school for milling.

"It's completely different from anything we can offer," she explains, adding that the pupils were "very focused, and we're delighted with the outcomes."

Pupils at Palace Wood Junior School in Maidstone have submitted work remotely and on site. Using the remote method, children could see a 2D creation on screen, and it would come back to them later as a milled piece of plastic. That in itself was quite an experience, says headteacher Derek Handy, who notes that there were advantages to submitting designs via floppy disc.

"It's a bit like the way the world works now," he says, observing that much of today's design work is undertaken on CAD packages, with manufacturing taking place on the other side of the world. "This is a sort of child level of that world of work," he says.

Mr Handy says he was also surprised at how easily pupils became familiar with the software, especially as he and his colleagues had struggled so much with earlier versions of the package during their own training. "I am really pleased that the children took to it so well," he says. "It's very user-friendly now - it's really quite straightforward to use."

It may seem complex, but in reality the project is anything but, says Ges Cocker, Maidstone's head of Damp;T. "The whole project is affordable," he says. "We're not trying to do anything that is earth-shatteringly difficult or complex. We've tried to keep it as simple as we can, and I think the outcomes have been of very good quality. It's something that can be developed, and the skills can be built on."

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