• Anita Demitroff

Bringing Structures Home: Making Secondary Technology Accessible

CLIL may be fun in Primary, but its counterpart in Secondary can sometimes be text-laden and content heavy. Technology as a subject may be an exception, and not just because there is an opportunity to use robotics. Even a topic as dry as structures can be made more approachable.

By bringing concepts home we mean finding practical examples. Some topics like simple machines lend themselves well to this; we can explain the theory with realia, like kitchen utensils. However, with an item like structures, we have to bring the student out into the community to find the real thing. When I was sent out to make videos in the pandemic, I went down our seaside promenade in search of the different types of structures in the curriculum. After a quick stroll I was able to find almost every kind mentioned in the syllabus. There was even a chapel with an arched doorway, but the structure that eluded me was a suspended one. As luck would have it, though, I was able to add a photo onto which a suspension bridge had been photoshopped in. It seems a local academic wanted to link our city with a neighbouring one, but the project had been scrapped. That was an interesting piece of history for the class.

Taking this topic out into the street led to new opportunities for thinking and speaking. Those of us who work with teens know that getting them to voice their opinions is like drawing blood from a stone, but here was a chance to debate design choices.

Benches, for instance, play a crucial role in our urban settings; our walkway had two types: a shell structure and others made from a frame. We could therefore consider which one was better and with what criteria. The framed structure was more appealing, but it was expensive and easily vandalised. On the other hand, the ugly cement shell has survived over the decades and was probably cheap to install.

Discussing practical issues may be easier than dealing with something abstract.

  • Which bench design is better?

  • Is it a good idea to connect the two cities with bridges?

  • Would you find this shell chair comfortable?

  • Is there a way to use sustainable materials, like seafood shells, to build the mass structures of the piers?

Finding solutions to problems may also engage learners. In one such case study, this time related to forces, there had been reports of balconies collapsing under the weight of small paddling pools. The families hadn’t calculated the added weight of the water!

With something invisible and therefore abstract like forces, it is even more important to get real. For example, we can imitate the cantilever structure achieved in a local building by balancing a pile of books. Another practical exercise is to hold up a pile of books with sheets of paper folded and taped in different ways: in a tall triangle, a rectangle or a cylinder.

Which structure is the strongest, shown by the number of books it can hold?

The third one.

A variety of activities gives a class texture and makes it more likely to appeal to all kinds of learners. Yes, there is a lot of content to wade through in Technology. Even small interventions can have great impact and could inspire someone to carry out ambitious engineering projects.

Did you find these ideas useful for Technology?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.