Why we should avoid the temptation of ‘scrapping’ practical ‘hands on’ learning for the benefit of students, with Caroline Keep.

After the year you have just been through, I wouldn’t blame anyone looking at their enrichments and curriculum and thinking, “just scrap the practicals” due to the dread of managing to run them in the Covid era. But please think twice about this. The last 18 months have shown the digital divide in a new light, and the need for our children to use technology is irrefutable.

Check out the guidance first

The CLEAPSS ‘Guide to doing practical work during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ and ‘Guidance on practical work during the COVID-19 pandemic – D&T’ are both godsends in the careful management of the risks involved. Everything will take longer – from planning to set-up, delivery and clear-up. I know many of us took to demonstrations and virtual practicals last year using simulation. The case for some practical elements returning cannot come soon enough for those working in D&T or other hands-on subjects. Getting that equipment out, sanitised and in children’s hands is a step forward.

Consider adding digital workshops or a makerspace

There is the idea that you need to spend a lot on it; you don’t, and I cannot stress the importance of digital skills to you should we all close again. So why not give in-house enrichment sessions for pupils, led by staff? I believe the technological advancement in schools will only make a real change if led by teachers. If you know how to use  these skills, you can deliver them year-long, not as a flash-in-the-pan STEM event. You can embed them into your teaching and benefit us all by showing how these technologies fit into History, Art, Mathematics and everything else we teach, as we prepare young people for the future and online schooling.

Teachers are time poor and often it’s easier to ‘buy in’ to a company to deliver these things, which leads to our schools buying in skills because we think they are technically beyond us. They aren’t.

I’ve seen hundreds of workshops now charging schools far too much to deliver a fun day with robotics – which you can do with the resources mentioned below, year on year, for very little. Better investing in time for your teachers to go to the free CPD that’s out there and moving these skills in-house. Lead this yourself.

Anyone can deliver computing projects with a Raspberry Pi (their user guide is easy too). This can be used for whole classes, year on year. Micro:bits were given out free to all UK Secondary schools with free lessons. Code Club has endless enrichment tasks. For 3D printing, what about Create Education, which not only has free CPD events and guides but will loan you a 3D printer to get started with. Then, there is virtual reality – Unity will give you the software and CPD for free. There are free Cybersecurity lessons with the cybersecurity challenge or you can use App inventor for building apps.

Clean kit

So now seems the time to do just this. I have spent the last two years boxing up electronics, spraying them with disinfectant and leaving them in quarantine until enrichment lessons, as well as cleaning PCs and teaching physical computing with Micro:bits. (I particularly like Nilco Dry-Touch Sanitiser Antibacterial Aerosol Spray).

A kit like this, kept in an individual box, sanitised and left for 72 hours, along with some careful planning, can bring back practical lessons and provide the practical skills our young people will need not only for the digital era but also to boost their skills to access school. Think of it as forward planning, just in case…

The 'kit' .<br />
(Referenced in left paragraph)


  • Caroline Keep

    Caroline is a teacher, Maker educator and data scientist. She publishes on STEM, data science and STEAM learning to promote creative and hands-on learning through physical computing, digital fabrication and coding.
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