In this case study a novel educational programme for students in preparatory vocational education was studied. The research questions were: (1) Which teaching/learning processes occur in a simulated workplace using the concept of a knowledge-rich workplace? (2) What is the role of models and modelling in the teaching/learning processes? The curriculum project consisted of design and construction tasks. The students were collaboratively involved in the process of designing a tricycle for a real customer. This real-life activity creates opportunities for students to develop and use models, which can be used in more than in one context. The case study explored how the teachers deal with the students' explicit and implicit need for knowledge and skills. The main findings are that teachers more often provide this knowledge, rather than guide the students in reconstructing it, and towards the end of the project, knowledge tended to remain situated. 2011 British Educational Research Association.