KS2: Isambard Kingdom Brunel – A total genius of engineering

Who built Victorian Britain? Well if there’s a famous Victorian building, structure or mode of transport, the odds are that Isambard Kingdom Brunel had something to do with it.

This short film explores how this genius honed his skills from a young age to become the great builder that he is known as today.

We see our narrator Scherrikar Bell tell us all about Mr Brunel and how he built his way around Britain and helped people to move around the country too.

The film discusses Brunel’s mathematical genius with his geometry skills, as well as his buoyancy theory, before explaining how Brunel was the engineer behind three large ships, the SS Great Western, The SS Great Eastern and the SS Great Britain.

This short film is from the BBC series, The Victorians.

Teacher Notes

These short films introduce a character that can be used as a jumping off point for cross-curricular learning. This can be applied to a variety of subjects across the Key Stage 2 curriculum.

This series of films is designed to introduce real historical figures in an engaging context that can be explored by both students and teachers to help understand a variety of subjects.

The format runs through a few key stories or elements from the lives of the historical figures and applies them to a subject that can be discussed or explored in the classroom. The films act as a catalyst to kick-start ideas and introduce students to a world that can cover all kinds of subjects.

Each short film should offer you lots of opportunities to create activities and schemes of work that take an element of the film and expand on it in the classroom with a curriculum-based learning objective in mind.

The films should leave the students feeling like they have both a basic knowledge of the Victorian character and that they are engaged with the fun personalities that the film portrays.

The aim is give students a context to understand a variety of subjects that co-exist in real scenarios.

Before Watching

Before getting started with the film, you could introduce your students to the Victorian era. Roughly when it took place historically, what it was like to live in that time and how it’s different from today.

Another useful approach would be to give the students a short introduction to the character, just sticking to the key points to peak their interest.

Before playing the film you should ask the children to keep an eye out for the different subjects, ideas, and objects that are spoken about in the film. At the end of the film you could ask the class to speak about what they’ve seen. This should bring up plenty of jumping off points for you to expand on.

To really bring the history to life you could set a themed day and ask students to wear costumes or adopt a special timetable to reflect the Victorian classroom.

You could ask the students what they already know about the character that features in the film to get a feel for their understanding. Then if the film mentions something they know and have mentioned they’ll feel affirmed in their knowledge and engaged with the film, but also any new information will help them to feel like their understanding has improved.

After watching

Following the film there should be activities lined up to take the learning in the film further. Introducing more detail to the stories and developing the understanding of the elements that have been touched up in the film.

These could be based around a subject. For example, the film talks about physical and human geography; a simple walk around the local area to explore the geographical features could help your students understand the difference between the two.

Brunel’s film also talks about buoyancy. An understanding of buoyancy can be a scientific gateway to larger subjects like density and material properties. All of which can be explore with simple classroom experimentation.

The film also starts to make connections between mathematics and more abstract applications like design and engineering. This could really help to give maths a place in the real-world for your students and could be explored further.

Next Steps

The next step should be to take the understanding of the subject that is in the Victorian context in the film and develop it into a deeper understanding of the subject that is required by the curriculum.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching at Key Stage 2 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Curriculum for Excellence First and Second Level in Scotland.

More from The Victorians:

Charles Darwin – The biggest name in Victorian science
Pablo Fanque – The greatest Victorian showman
Florence Nightingale – The founder of modern nursing
Queen Victoria – The ultimate Victorian