Sunday, 30 May 2010

Scalextric Autumn Term

The purpose of the Autumn term was to build the cars, although as it turned out, the process lasted beyond Christmas...

As a former engineer, I was keen that the children would have a taste of engineering that would spark interest and enthusiasm. I recognised that complexity and a lack of connection with their current experiences could potentially put the children off. I wanted the children to be able to go up to secondary school, thinking: "engineering - yeah that's something I could try..."

After all, I tried it...

Frankley City Learning Centre really came into their own in this term. They put on a great afternoon for us where the children could see the process of making the cars, from the 3D CAD to the cutting machine, to the vacuum-forming and on to actual racing some cars on a track they had set up.

They also brought their own bank of laptops into Paganel for the children to design some of the simpler components on 2D CAD. This was brilliant for my top maths group who finally got the relevance of angles. It also helped with some tricky words like 'intersection', 'perpendicular' and 'parallel' - it was marvelous to have a practical application to these things rather than continually using the old practice SATs question.

On about the third session, the maths began to get a little tricky (it is after all an activity for 15 year olds, not 11 year olds) and the children began to get a little disgruntled. Remarkably the person who showed the most success was a lad working within Level 3 at maths, who also had a statement for SEN. He finished all the designs, following the instructions with great care. It was an achievement that I shared with his father who was delighted that he had finally found something he was not only good at, but better than everyone else...

Anyway, aware that many of the children had become disgruntled - and it was my purpose to attract people to engineering, not to put them off, Steve (the teacher from Frankley City Learning Centre) decided to quit while he was ahead and teach the children to use 2D CAD to make snowflakes. This brought back the enthusiasm, whilst still using some maths, ICT and design skills. It was also just in time for Christmas. Steve took the designs away and used the Frankley CLC laser cutter to make up the children's snowflakes and they all happily took one home at Christmas.

Also that term we got on with making the body of the car.

It was clear that 3D CAD was out of the question. 'Pro engineer' is a software package that, as you can tell from the name, can be used by professional engineers to create stuff. So, instead, we went back to an old primary school favourite - clay.

The children modelled their cars firstly out of plasticine and then the finished model out of clay. Phil, the Frankley CLC CAD expert had designed us a base to put the clay on with all the right parameters for a Scalextric car. It looks like this:

The children molded clay over the top of this base to the shape of their choice. The clay dried. In some cases it cracked, slightly and they had to fill in the gaps with plasticine. Then Phil took them all off to the Vac-forming machine and made car bodies out of them.

This was the bit that took a bit longer than expected, so I'm going to write a bit more about this when I blog about what happened in the Spring term.

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