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Subject insights: Design & Technology
Well hello there, and welcome to update #017!
How do schools provide a rich, challenging curriculum? It’s worth taking a look at some of the ways subject leaders go about their work in practice. This time in design and technology.
Design and technology challenges students to go beyond what they already know. As @BrittonAmanda explains in ‘Huh’, we need to value this ever-advancing subject, & provide students with the skills to tackle some of the future’s big issues like sustainability, energy & climate change.
The curriculum aim at key stage 3 is for design and technology students to be socially aware and environmentally aware. They are essentially problem solvers. We want them to be alert thinkers who look around & think, ‘There’s a problem which I could solve creatively.’
It's a deeply humanistic process in terms of imagination, practicality; of literally making the world a better place. They have a sense and understanding of function and aesthetics. They know the importance of function alongside what looks good, they know what technologies we use to make certain components, and they have a cradle-to-grave understanding of the products they design and construct.
And in designing a solution to a problem, pupils would have some concept of how their design will have an impact on the environment and how it will improve the stakeholder’s life. We want them to be able to design products that are useful, functional and aesthetically pleasing. They will have thought about big concepts like the inclusivity and usability of the product.
They will have thought about the whole life cycle of the product they design, from the time they design it, from the materials they choose, their sources and origins, what sort of technologies they are going to use, the type of labour that is required, how it is going to be made, and how it is going to be marketed. They would also consider what is going to happen to the product at the end of its functional life. Is it going to be recycled, is it going to be upcycled, could it be repaired or could it be upgraded? They would ensure that it is not going to be a landfill product and that it is made sustainably, without impacting upon future generations.
Sustainability has become a central element of Amanda’s curriculum. Materials such as timbers and metals are becoming more expensive. We are always considering how much plastic we use and how we can recycle it or look for materials that are recycled and sustainably sourced. For example, Gum-tec is a plastic made from chewing gum. Smile Plastics are made from washing up bottles and other waste plastic items; Pinatex leather made from pineapple leaves. These materials make us think differently. Products no longer have to be made from plastic, wood or metal; there are many other sustainable materials out there to choose from.
The creative core of the design process: generating ideas
It is important that we create an environment where students ‘loosen up’ to ideas. We give them a structure which, paradoxically, helps them come up with ideas to solve their design problem. We use the acronym ‘SCAMPER’:
Modify (also magnify and minify)
Put to another use
Another element we emphasise is simplicity, because so many design solutions are simple. And finally we look at instances when designs have gone wrong. Why have they gone wrong? What happened there?
We talk about innovation and about how creativity does not have to be about reinventing the wheel. It might be improving a small part of something, or it might be taking inspiration from something. We look at lots of different designs, where people have made a very small change, but that minor tweak has had a big impact on the effectiveness of the artefact. We explain that failure is an integral part of the process and how the first design is not going to be perfect; it is a prototype. We talk about what a prototype is, how it is not a working fully functioning object and what the expectations are, that we are not expecting a crafted, beautiful product, we are expecting an idea that is going to grow and, as a prototype, that might lead to something else unplanned.
We have a unit called ‘Mobile Communication’ where the students are given a brief to design a mobile concept device. It begins with us talking about how to come up with creative ideas and the students learning how to communicate their ideas through hand drawing and CAD drawing. We talk a lot about thought showers, getting them to crash down on the page what sort of mobile devices there are. We talk about fitness devices and health devices and where and how you could wear these devices.
And then we talk about how we could present our ideas. How would we draw them? What are the advantages of doing it on a computer? We introduce Computer-Aided Design, analysing the benefits of CAD. How would CAD make it better to communicate their ideas? Or how would using CAD be more difficult? What would be the problems with it? We focus on choosing the appropriate method of communication, rather than listing what we want them to do. We asked them, ‘How would you communicate your ideas and who is the audience?’ And then we would teach them the skills they need to present their ideas, whether that be CAD or hand drawing.
In the digital world, the analogue is still important: pen and paper remain a fundamental element of sophisticated thinking before we can go on to CAD or other ways of designing things. If you think of fashion, it is impossible to imagine a fashion designer beginning the design process with a computer. They would have a piece of paper and a pencil and they would sketch their ideas. At Ferrari, they use a pen and paper to work things out or to show something quickly. You have got to begin somewhere. You have to put that pencil on the paper and have a go. Building the courage to record ideas is key.
Design and technology teachers are highly collaborative, creative & adaptable. The fabric of curriculum thinking is richest when it's collective. We are a pattern seeking species; when powerful curriculum connections are made, it's a beautiful professional process.
Some documents that are helpful for a line manager to read about design technology
Until next time
And when you’re ready, you might find these helpful for curriculum and leadership development in your school
Huh Curriculum Leaders Course: UPDATE: The June course is now open, and the last two were oversubscribed
The spring Primary Subject Networks now available to book, live and recorded (£/free trial). Due to demand we are planning secondary subject networks, details to follow
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