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Peter Douglas, Primary headteacher and ex-advisory teacher for Science and Technology in Lincolnshire, has been closely involved in the design and development of Inventa from the very beginning. Here he explains why it has been developed and how it can help deliver the technology curriculum.

Technology in schools is primarily about designing and making. To do this effectively requires suitable materials that will allow children to achieve solutions that work well. Since the introduction of technology into schools very few resources have been designed specifically to support its development. Although the introduction of woodstrip, as a resistant material promoted much advancement, it also posed many design problems. When using the woodstrip system pupils are presented with a very limited material choice and are not encouraged to examine the possibilities of other materials such as plastic, metal or card. Also, because the woodstrip is not part of an integrated system schools have to buy the mechanisms and other components separately. The result is a mish mash of unrelated elements that are difficult to fix together and do not work properly when they are joined. The failure rate is excessively high, with too often teachers and pupils blaming their own lack of experience and skill rather than the materials. And yet in most cases failure was inevitable.

Experiencing failure within the design and make process can be a very necessary part of the process and can promote improved solutions and designs. However there is a need to reduce the unnecessary frustration felt by teachers in having to use and adapt inappropriate materials and the frustration of pupils who cannot get gears to mesh together despite their best efforts. I have seen such frustrations dramatically deplete the motivation with which both teachers and children initially tackled a project and bad practice thrived. In fact most teachers found technology so difficult that OFSTED inspectors proclaimed it the least successfully taught subject of the national curriculum.

Valiant recognised this need and Inventa has been specifically developed to support and extend the development of technology in schools and to overcome the problems and frustrations. The construction materials fit together in different ways to create a variety of structures and movements in mechanisms, enhancing many areas in which it has previously been difficult to produce successful results. Most importantly, they can integrate with other materials, including wood strip, corriflute and card to combine all the advantages of construction kits without limiting design choice and opportunities.

The components themselves are incredibly flexible with the plastic link strips, for example, being used for straight structures, curved structures and joins. A variety of brackets can be used to mount supports by simply pushing in rivets. Rods made from dowel or plastic are a push fit into all holes and metal rods allow gears and pulleys to rotate freely and accurately. Collars push on to hold all rods in place. Using the various building blocks, gears, pulleys, worm drives and racks can create mechanisms that can be mounted accurately on link strip or wood frames and work smoothly!

An important feature of the system is the worktop, which provides a work surface for small groups of children to have a construction area for cutting, drilling and gluing, but most importantly, marking out. it is in this latter area that the worktop provides scope for much needed emphasis and helps develop skills in a practical way. All materials can be clamped and the use of a T-square and tri-square (specially sized for small hands) help the process of accurate marking out which obviously has such a bearing on the quality of the finished product. Each worktop provides a self contained construction area that has many advantages for classroom organisation.

In providing such excellent documentation and support material Valiant have been able to tackle the problem of teacher confidence. Too often, for non-specialist teachers, Technology has appeared to be a difficult and dangerous subject. The books provide the technological knowledge, for teachers as well as pupils, and they are gently guided through its implementation in the classroom with hints and tips and ready prepared activity sheets. The video showing how to choose appropriate tools and use them safely allows teachers to ensure that correct procedures are adopted and no accidents occur in their classroom.

The Inventa design and make system will help provide a framework where appropriate skills and techniques can be taught to enable children to produce successful solutions and improve the quality of their work. Identifying the skills covered at each stage as well as the material resources, will provide a basis for developing a school policy for technology that will help provide continuity and progression throughout the school. If fact Inventa seems to cover all the problem areas that OFSTED Inspectors highlighted in their recent report on D&T teaching:

"Few schools had an adequate range of materials for D&T and in some there was a shortage of tools and equipment ..."

"Many teachers lacked knowledge and skills about tools, materials and equipment and teaching designing..."

"D&T lesson planning was generally weak and consequently there was little continuity or progression in teaching..."

I believe that the development of Inventa will prove to be a most substantial leap forward in the implementation of the technology curriculum. Its importance should not be underestimated for as the Engineering Council says, "Getting technology right in schools would bring benefits to the education of individuals, the economy and ultimately the quality of life of us all."

  © 2004. Amethyst Consultancy Ltd.