Secondary Technology – Sustainability

Introducing Sustainability at Key Stage 3

As a Technology teacher, one of the areas that I have discovered my GCSE students find particularly challenging to get their heads around is the new sustainable GCSE paper. The trouble often is that the idea of ‘sustainability’ and being environmentally conscious as a designer is one that the pupils are learning from fresh at GCSE. Students have often never had any practice with sustainable products and projects lower down the school and therefore struggle with even the basic subject knowledge when preparing for the exam.

I’ve come up with a solution which I began with my Key Stage 3 students, “drip feeding” them sustainable projects and ideas from when they join the school in Year 7 all the way through to when they are taking their GCSE exam. I’ve suggested some of the ways that I‘ve developed this theme with my own Key Stage 3 classes below, but there are no doubt countless more ways that projects can be adapted to focus on sustainability, depending on your resources and individual classes!

  1. Recycling Theory – introduce the pupils to recycling from Year 7. Although more families are recycling at home, particularly where local councils provide separate recycling bins or collections, there are always a great number of pupils who have never actively engaged with recycling before. One of the simplest ways to introduce this concept is through recycling bins in the classroom. However, in my workshop there are not only specific bins for paper and card but also for various types of materials as well – we have plastic, metal and wood bins where off cuts and waste can be separated. We’ll then regularly go through these bins and ‘save’ any of the pieces to be used for teacher demonstrations etc. By getting pupils to actively sort through different materials and see how they can be re-purposed in the classroom, they can start to recognise that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’!
  2. Projects using recycled materials. Where possible we also encourage students to think about recycling in their individual projects. A short Year 8 project I developed was a flashing badge project. The pupils cut, shaped and glued waste bits of plastic into a badge, drilled holes in it and attached a flashing badge unit. The pupils found this really fun – coming up with some extremely creative ideas from a variety of plastic waste, including badges shaped like cats, cars and even a pizza! The project was a really useful way of re-enforcing the idea of transforming recycled waste into usable products and challenged the class to approach their designs from a different direction.
  3. Projects that make use of sustainable resources. One of the best sustainability projects I have seen in action is ‘The Windmill Project’. Pupils are given a fan (the source of the wind) and a hub connected to an electric motor. The electric motor is connected to volt meter to measure the electricity generated. Pupils then have to develop the best blades they can to generate the most amount of electricity. Pupils can vary the size and shape of the blades as well as the number of blades. I have found that it is best to get the pupils to work in teams, as this allows them to bounce ideas off each other and to (hopefully) collaboratively develop better products! I usually give a prize to the team that generates the most amount of electricity. This can also segue quite neatly into a discussion of other sustainable energy sources with the pupils.

As I mentioned, these are just a few suggestions to approach this topic but I’ve found them to be really effective.  Hopefully, this preparation will have ensured students have passively absorbed a lot more knowledge on the subject than they’ve even realised (always the trick when teaching…) and will find preparing for and sitting the GCSE exam a much less daunting experience!

James Randall
Design & Technology Teacher, Barking Abbey School

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