Engineering and Science in Primary Schools

Engineering and Science in Primary Schools

This project was funded by the Scottish Government and ran from 2011 until 2013.

Drawing on expertise

In the context of major educational change (Curriculum for Excellence) this project built on research within the School of Education on transformational change and on inquiry based learning in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Specifically, this was a follow-up to and development of the Engineering the Future Project funded by the EPSRC and was linked with the Fibonacci Project funded under the FP7 Programme by the EU.

The methodology drew on research within the School of Education on transformational change. Essentially, this research found that innovations in education that are to be sustainable have to pay attention to three dimensions of integrity (Hayward & Spencer, 2010):

  • educational integrity – they have to have an educational rationale that makes the activity worth doing;
  • personal and professional integrity – they must link to the personal agendas of those involved and be developed with people rather than done to people
  • systemic integrity – there need to be consistent messages across the system from policy, leadership, parents, colleagues etc.


The Engineering and Science in Primary Schools Project developed a research informed model for engineering education in primary school based on five questions:

  • How might learners in upper primary school be encouraged to see links between the kinds of activity they are undertaking in school and the outside world of contemporary engineering?
  • How might learners in upper primary have access to the kinds of world leading research in engineering currently underway in Scotland in a way that links this to their in school experiences?
  • How might we begin to build a resource of experience to enable people to learn from one another as they begin to try out some of the challenges?
  • How might we help to extend young people’s understanding of engineering, what it is and why it matters?
  • How might we encourage a better understanding of what a career in engineering might be like?

The project brought together engineers and educationalists working with teachers in primary schools in a number of educational authorities in Scotland to inform thinking on these issues and to use initial findings to inform the development of resources for schools. This was carried out in the context of the Scottish Government’s Science and Engineering Action plan and the development of STEM Central as a national on-line resource.

Provisional answers to these questions were used to inform the collaborative development of a range of resources to support engineering education in primary schools; the collaborative development process then further informed responses to the questions.

Putting it into practice

Researchers, teachers and engineers identified possible areas for development of resources to support learning. These were then developed in partnership with teachers and engineers, making use of research on teaching and learning in the STEM subjects, on the nature of concept development in these areas and on support needed for professional development. A selection was made with colleagues from the then Learning and Teaching Scotland and these were developed into Learning Journeys that were then submitted to LTScotland for publication on STEM Central. Informed by research on the views of primary teachers and on models of professional development, the research team sought to ensure sustainable transformational change by producing appropriately detailed Learning Journeys. Based on research findings teachers were afforded support through ensuring that the resources made ideas explicit for primary teachers who did not have a background in science.

The development of the Learning Journeys was further informed by critical discussion with research colleagues from the European Fibonacci project concerned with inquiry based science and engineering. This afforded opportunities to consider the relationship between the provision of a motivating context for learners and concept development.

Responding to specific issues in primary schools identified by the research, it was decided to include with these learning journeys examples of a wider range of resources that might be used to support the aspiration to broaden and deepen understandings of engineering more generally. The accompanying vodcasts form the basis of an exploratory attempt to address a number of issues raised through research. The intention is to encourage teachers and others (scientists and engineers) to work together to begin to build up a collection of such resources.