Materials for Schools

Bringing academic rigour to A-level Design and Technology

Design and selection methods developed at the Cambridge University Engineering Design Centre are now being used in schools to enhance the teaching of materials and their properties. The graphical methodology of material selection charts developed by Professor Mike Ashby for university teaching has been adapted for use by teachers and students of Design & Technology and Physics at A-level. To see how material selection charts can help with material selection, read our introduction to charts.
The ideas have been used to help create a complete teaching and learning package for materials and manufacturing processes. The product includes a multimedia CD-ROM which contains interactive material selection charts as well as animations that bring the whole process of designing with materials to life.

Click image for further details on the package

Interactive charts are available on the WWW site

Dr Hugh Shercliff and Dr Andrew Lovatt have been writing the resources together with Professor Phil Withers of Manchester University. "Our project arose as a result of the findings of a working party set up by UCLES (the local exam syndicate, now part of the OCR Examinations Board) to pilot the use of material selection charts in schools for teaching materials. This approach allows materials to be introduced in a way that make it exciting, through a design context instead of tedious tables of properties" explains Hugh Shercliff. "The teaching package includes a multi-media CD-ROM and case studies of how to choose materials and processes to make a 13A plug, drink containers and bicycles. Design & Technology as an A-level subject generally has a poor reputation in HE, but can be an excellent preparation for engineering at University, provided it is taught with sufficient academic rigour. We are particularly pleased that the same approach to materials was picked up by the Institute of Physics, and adopted for their new A level Physics syllabus - demonstrating the synergy between the two subjects."

The project has been sponsored by the Technology Enhancement Programme (TEP), which is part of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and the EPSRC, via a Public Understanding of Science award. A supporting web site containing many of the resources can be found at: For further details contact Hugh Shercliff, email