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Ministry of Education.
Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore to tātou waka e ū ki uta

Mechanisms and science knowledge

Teaching inquiry

How effective is building a mechanism in developing students' technology curriculum understandings alongside science knowledge?

Could this project also encourage students to be resilient learners?

Strategy | Technology curriculum understandings | Science knowledge | Resilience and problem solving


Teachers Toni Tippet and Aidan Forbes had already explored connections between the technology curriculum and the STEM approach to education. See: St Peter's College: Strategies for improvement in years 7–13.

Toni and Aidan identified that as students designed and constructed a mechanical arm to pick up an object, they could resolve problems using knowledge from other learning areas, including science.

Examples of students' mechanisms

Annabelle, year 8, 2014

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Technology curriculum understandings

Nature of technology: Sustainability and clean manufacturing processes

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The project started with looking at sustainability and clean manufacturing processes. The class explored how BMW plants encourage sustainability through recycling as much as possible – from office cups to car parts.

At St Peter's Gore, teachers value introducing understandings from the nature of technology strand right from the beginning of their projects. They see this is as key to students knowing what the technology curriculum is about and learning from the practice of other technologists.

Applying the technological process

Toni and Aidan supported the students in applying the technological process to their problem of developing a robotic arm that could pick up an object and move it.

The students: 

  • researched existing ideas and designs
  • drew on their previous learning about hydraulics and mechanisms
  • produced design ideas in the form of sketches
  • produced cardboard models to test ideas
  • developed ideas through more sketching
  • planned out a construction method (this often changed throughout the fabrication process)
  • started fabricating a design that was synthesised from research, design ideas, design development, and functional modelling (at this point the teacher had not influenced the students' ideas)
  • tested and modified the design of the fabricated model as they encountered issues with its functionality.

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Science knowledge

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The science knowledge covered within the project included physics knowledge:

  • the different types of motion – linear, rotary, reciprocating, and oscillating
  • identifying types of motion in the way parts move in technological outcomes
  • exploring structures, frames, shells, and the different forces that can act upon structures and objects – compressive, tension, shearing, bending, torsion.

The students examined different types of machines and identified and described what they did. Levers and linkages demonstrated "mechanical advantage", as well as inputs and outputs in technological systems. The teachers used mechanisms in the workshop machines to teach students about different types of mechanisms. The students were also given the opportunity to examine a range of objects in the mechanisms "handling box".

Links to the science curriculum objectives

Level 3 and 4, Physical World

  • Explore, describe, and represent patterns and trends for everyday examples of physical phenomena, such as movement, forces, electricity and magnetism, light, sound, waves, and heat. For example, identify and describe the effects of forces [contact and non-contact] on the motion of objects; identify and describe everyday examples of sources of energy, forms of energy, and energy transformations.

Level 5, Physical World

  • Explore a technological or biological application of physics.

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Resilience and problem solving

The students were given three levels of challenge so that they could choose the level they felt comfortable attempting. (See St Peter's College: Strategies for improvement in years 7–13 for details of this approach.)

The teachers emphasised that things will go wrong. Components will fail, parts will smash, and when they do, we will work out why, make improvements, and start again. A saying followed by the teachers and students throughout the project was: “Failure is always an option. Giving up is not.”

Aidan explains his approach to project problems and failures below.

If a student’s project failed in some way, they were asked to explain what they thought had gone wrong and at least two alternative ways they could fix the problem. Then I would provide my opinion – although more often than not it was not needed!

Aidan Forbes

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