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Promote tinkering to unlock engineering potential

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Engineering should become as natural to primary school pupils as learning another language, according to a report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The report, which advocates a ‘tinkering for learning’ approach to education to boost students’ problem-solving, creativity and collaboration skills, highlights that there is a window of opportunity to embed a creative engineering-themed curriculum in primary schools.

A tinkering approach to teaching gives teachers the tools to create learning opportunities that capitalise on and make links between computer science, design technology and science subjects.

The report called for more work to be done to promote engineering habits of mind, enhancement of professional learning networks for teachers for engineering education, the use of thematic curricula with real-world contracts to be actively explored, and for senior leadership teams in schools to drive change in support of engineering education.

Lynne Bianchi and Jon Chippindall of the Science & Engineering Education Innovation and Research Hub at the University of Manchester led the three-year Tinkering4Learning project that underpins the report, working with 30 teachers from 12 schools across Greater Manchester.

The project was focused on enhancing teachers’ ability to shape lessons for primary and secondary pupils within the mainstream curriculum and report evaluates how the project has succeeded in contributing to existing programmes.

Tinkering4Learning is based on earlier Academy research including Thinking like an Engineer, which found that young children are natural engineers and possess many of the requisite skills like creative problem-solving, adapting and improving.

Report author Bianchi said: “Tinkering has offered a bridge to see engineering come alive in primary classrooms. The Tinkering4Learning approaches demonstrates teaching and learning techniques which primary teachers can readily use to develop and nurture children’s natural curiosity and engineering talents from an early age. Through a realignment of core curriculum teachers have demonstrated how we can equip children better for a future career in engineering. All we need now is to extend such practices far and wide!”

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