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Teachers' Notes

This resource was created by Leeds 2023 & Smeaton300.

Teacher resources created by Foxglove.

This learning story provides an overview of the life of John Smeaton, the father of Civil Engineering, the work he is famous for, and his influence which we still see today.

Curriculum Links

  • KS2 and KS3 History: Local History Study
  • KS3 History: Industry 1745 - 1901 | Chronology beyond 1066 | Challenges for Britain 1901-present day: World War Two
  • KS2 and KS3 Design Technology: Exploring mechanisms such as wheels and axles, understanding mechanical systems | Characteristics of materials and their possible uses
  • KS3 Design Technology: Technological developments and their impact on individuals, society and the environment
  • KS3 Science: Forces
  • KS3 Science: Energy changes and transfers
  • GCSE Engineering: Engineering materials and processes I testing and investigations I Application of practical engineering skills
  • BTEC Level 2/ 3 Engineering: Engineering Principles

Discussion Ideas

  • Where can you see John Smeaton’s influence today?
  • Can you think of any other examples of where design and technology or engineering has been influenced by nature like Smeaton’s work?
  • What was so pioneering about Smeaton’s approach to his workforce?
  • What can we learn from the way Smeaton approached his work and solved problems?
  • If Smeaton was alive today, what innovations do you think he would be working on?
  • Why do you think it’s important to be a good collaborator and creative thinker like Smeaton was?
  • Do you think Smeaton should have patented his work to become richer and more famous?
  • Smeaton explored renewable energy through water and wind. Why is renewable energy important today?

Activity Ideas


  • Produce a presentation on Smeaton’s work and gather images of his influences which we can still see today
  • Write your own worker’s charter which could have been used in the 1750’s
  • Research John Smeaton’s work and design a UK tour visiting all the sites he influenced

Design and Technology:

  • Make a water wheel – see Water Wheel Mylearning page
  • Make a model of a lighthouse using Smeaton’s inspiration of the oak tree
  • Make a model of a bridge using paper – which shapes and structures are the most stable?
  • Using a simple circuit, create a wind turbine that can power a generator and light a bulb
  • Design a sculpture which would commemorate Smeaton and his contribution to engineering and make a pitch for where this would go in Leeds.


KS2 – An overview of eight short activities. Check out the Leeds2023 Smeaton Crest Award page for more information about these activities and completing a Smeaton Crest Award (Super Star level)

Super Star level

  • Building Bridges - Smeaton Park needs a new bridge to get people from the city into the park. Can you make a model bridge and test it to see if it carries weight?
  • Shadow Science - Inspired by John Smeaton’s interest in astronomy, this challenge encourages children to experiment with shadows and understand how they work.
  • Tree Teams - Smeaton Park needs some trees, but which trees are best? Research this topic and present your ideas.
  • Waste Warriors - Can Smeaton Park be waste free? Experiment with different materials for holding food and liquids for the Smeaton Park café.
  • Wind Wizards - Make a simple windmill and test it in this challenge to show you understand wind power.
  • People Power - Conduct a research survey into what people want to see in a new park, and feed this back to your class
  • Lighthouse legends - John Smeaton invented the Eddystone lighthouse to withstand wind and water. Can you experiment with structures and explore strength and stability like a civil engineer?
  • Water Wise - Test the properties of water in this challenge – what happens to the flow and force of water when an obstacle is in its way? How do dams and water wheels work?

KS3 – Check out the Leeds2023 Smeaton Crest Award page for details on how to complete this project and achieve a Smeaton Crest Award (Discovery Level)

Objective: Work in teams, over 5 hours, to research John Smeaton, civil engineering and renewable energy to create and present a proposal for a new public space, ie a new park.

  • Learn about John Smeaton and his work and how he impacted the future of engineering.
  • Research public spaces, their history and purpose, and design a new, inclusive and accessible public park space, noting the power demands of different elements within the park space (ie café, playground, lighting, etc).
  • Research and learn about renewable energy sources including wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biofuel. Choose a method of renewable energy production to power your chosen public space area and the elements therein, ie toilets, playground, lighting, visitors centre, café. What are the relative power demands of each part? Could LEDs be used to lower consumption?
  • Decide on how what form of device will create the power for your context.
  • Explore and develop your ideas by drawing and modelling in 3D.
  • Develop a design proposal for the solution and present your findings to your class and teacher.