Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

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So what does the new draft D&T GCSE content add up to?

While the new draft GCSE content for Cooking and Nutrition was extensively covered in Thursday’s press, you could be forgiven for having missed the fact that the new draft content for the Design and Technology GCSE was published on the DfE site as well (along with Drama and Citizenship).

It remains to be seen whether the final content for D&T does follow this draft structure, and most importantly the eventual breadth and depth developed and packaged by the examination boards, but in the meantime it’s worth highlighting some of the major proposed changes.

1. There will be just one subject called Design and Technology, i.e. there will be no separate courses for Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronic Products, etc. Food Technology will no longer exist as such and will be replaced by a separate non-D&T option called ‘Cooking and Nutrition’.

2. Students can elect to design and make a product in a series of ‘areas of interest’, which include fashion, interiors and furnishings, advertising and promotion, consumer electronics, leisure and mechanical systems.

3. In addition to knowledge and understanding relating to their chosen ‘area of interest’, all students will be expected to cover pliable and resistant materials, textiles, mechanics, programmable components and new materials.

4. A clear distinction has been made between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’, with both being acceptable, provided they are ‘high quality’.

And elsewhere it has been reported that coursework will be reduced to 50% of the final assessment instead of 60%.

There are many positive things about this proposal, though largely in the sense of ‘Well it could have been a lot worse’. There are encouraging references to ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating’ (or ‘having, growing and proving’ as the Goldsmiths e-scape project described it some years ago). And there’s even a remit for student-developed briefs, ‘a creative approach’, ‘taking design-risks’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘collaborative discourse’ (though sadly not collaborative working). But it’s a pity there are no prompts for work in spatial or built environment design, and nothing to promote a deeper understanding and practice of ‘modelling’, which lies at the very heart of design.

Some implications of the draft are issues as to how the course will come to be delivered. Ideally perhaps schools will develop a team-teaching approach with students accessing former subject-specialist teachers and teaching areas as and when appropriate. But others, and probably the majority, will doubtless adopt a materials-based ‘theory’ circus, and/or assign students to work in a chosen ‘area of interest’ right from the start of year 10. Let’s face it…

Fashion = Textiles Technology
Advertising and promotion = Graphic Products
Furnishings, Mechanical systems and Leisure = Resistant Materials
Consumer electronics = Electronic Products

Which just leaves the problem of how to deliver a more broadly-based theory course, unless textile teachers are going to be willing to cover mechanics, and electronics teachers are happy to deal with fibres and fabrics.

Meanwhile the increase in the knowledge-based ‘written paper’ to 50%, although not unexpected (and could have been even higher), continues to defeat the whole point of studying D&T. Every D&T teacher tells stories of students who are excellent designers but fail the examination because of the difficulties they find with the written papers, and similarly of students with minimal practical capability in D&T who get high grades simply as a result of being good a formal exam technique.

There remains the age-old problem of the statement that:

“The word ‘product’ is understood throughout to be a generic term for all 3D final outcomes of design practice including systems and objects. “

Beyond the fact that this understanding is somewhat out-dated in design these days, it presents issues in the advertising and promotion area for the production of promotional 2D graphic work, and in particular ‘digital promotion’, which presumably involves websites and video?

Although the distinction between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’ is helpful, it still needs further consideration. It should perhaps read: ‘Final proposals should be presented in such a form as to effectively communicate your design ideas to a client, user, manufacturer or financial investor.’ Or even better still: ‘Final proposals for design ideas should be uploaded to Kickstarter in order to obtain feedback and potential funding for further development’.

But, to be realistic, the statement that students are required to ‘demonstrate the ability to:

• design and develop innovative, functional, aesthetic and marketable products that respond to needs and are fit for purpose’

is somewhat ambitious to say the least, because if they can succeed at doing so in their GCSEs they would be achieving what most teams of professional product designers fail to do in a lifetime! How about ‘demonstrate they have the potential capability to…’ instead?

And going back to the proposed ‘areas of interest’, this article suggests that opportunities have been missed to really drag the subject into the 21st Century by following the suggestions made for categories for future professional design disciplines, listed as:

• The Design Coder
• The Design Entrepreneur
• The Hybrid Design Researcher
• The Business Designer
• The Social Innovator

Or even:
Sustainable design pioneer

But there’s one statement that really can’t be forgiven, it’s:

“The types and properties of the following natural and man-made materials:“

Yes, you read that correctly: MAN-made materials. What is this, the 1970’s? Synthetic, manufactured or just made materials, please. Or, following the ‘less is more’ design principle, how about just ‘…the following materials’?

Whatever happened to Food Technology?

While the new GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition can only be welcomed, it must be regretted that Food Technology appears to have been dismissed from Office. Far from being toxic, overall it was the D&T GCSE that probably achieved the highest, most rigorous standards and the only one that really succeeded in delivering practical work in school alongside a real understanding of the issues of scaling up a ‘one-off’ into a batch or mass-produced product. And while the future demand for 3D product designers is at best modest, there will continue to be a substantial need for expertise in the extensive UK food industry. The proposed new course can only be described as ‘dumbed down’, a phrase an enthusiastic Nick Glibb strangely omitted to use. All Change Please! therefore hopes that some form of higher-level GCSE Food Technology course, either within or outside the D&T framework, will be re-considered.

And at the same time however, it seems only reasonable that similar courses in Woodwork, Metalwork and Needlework should be re-introduced to compliment Cooking. After all, the next generation of young men and women who fail their more academically-demanding GCSEs are going to need to be able to do something useful during their long hours of future unemployment, aren’t they?

Consultation

Details of how to make your views known can be found on the DATA website.

Image credit: Flickr/Josef Stuefer

One giant leap?

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If All Change Please!‘s recent One small step post suggested that the way forward for education was to try to get traditional and progressive teachers to try and come to a better understanding of what each are doing, then what would One giant leap for Schoolkind be like?

Well, it might not surprise you to learn that All Change Please! regular Tony Wheeler has some suggestions…

“I’m sorry to be the pouty one throwing my toys out of the playpen, and I really do want progressives and traditionalists to get closer together, but having spent the last 30 years pussy-footing around, tactfully making the connections and emphasising the similarities (in order to make progressive more palatable for traditionalists), all that happens is active/progressive/project-based teaching and learning gets more deeply compromised, misrepresented and sidelined.

The truth is that while it may be possible to identify some bits of evidence in some bits of lessons that look a bit similar, progressive and traditional both start from such utterly different intentions that unless you have felt/experienced/participated/enjoyed both, it is really really difficult to make meaningful comparisons.

As I do, most educators seem to value most what has worked for them, and this is the real problem. Everyone’s had good, bad and mostly mediocre experiences of traditional fact-based chalk-n-talk. Despite what Daisy, Gove, Toby and the Campaign For Real Education would have the media believe it’s still what kids get for well over 90% of the time in schools.  In contrast, at the same time well over 90% of people have never ever seen, let alone participated in effective, purposeful, contextualised active learning.

If I were managing a school (perish the thought!) I would want to work with a team that wanted to (amongst other things):

  • give young people as well as teachers, real power to participate in the design of new approaches to teaching and learning
  • stop using subjects as the key components of curriculum and attempt to replace them with something more like ‘teaching’ (not learning) styles to ensure a breadth of experience
  • talk about metacognition as being important for pupils and doubly important for teachers. I would negotiate a process involving pupils and colleagues to help all teachers contemplate and review their own strengths and weaknesses as educators
  • encourage all teachers to prepare and maintain a dynamic personal teaching and learning statement (i.e. ‘I think education is important because…’, ‘The role of our school is…’, ‘The capabilities/approaches I bring are…’, etc.) which they share and build into collective dialogues with learning teams
  • replace timetabling as a mechanistic process to manage resources/subjects completed by an administrator with a process to choreograph individual pupil’s daily learning experiences managed by experts in pedagogy.
  • ensure all children have equal access to ‘purposeful active’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ styles of teaching. As they progress through the system they can opt to specialise in one or other but they will always need some of both.
  • manage the range of style and expertise so as not force staff to teach/interact in ways they are unhappy to take on
  • as a community search for the similarities/links/connections across subjects and negotiate purposeful activities around these supported by appropriate knowledge transfer.
  • group students by interest, experience and capability, rather than age, ability or gender
  • encourage the local community (and teachers) to participate as learners, trading time/skills for learning participation
  • evidence progress using structured dynamic portfolios, building towards external individual presentation beyond school
  • accredit through international collective comparative judgements
  • agree more equitable and appropriate measures by which to report school effectiveness (i.e. emotional index, elective participation, community impact, range of destinations)

In the wasteland of the last 20 years of government tinkering and media misrepresenting, this would of course pose a significant CPD challenge and require a multi-million pound marketing budget to convince potential parents. But if we really want to create an education system fit for the 21st century, that’s what’s going to be needed.

In the meanwhile, maybe something we could do as a start is to identify, profile and champion compelling isolated exemplars of active learning and begin to devise possible strategies for scaling up across the whole curriculum and all schools.”

So, if you were managing a school, where would you start? Or perhaps you already are, and have done?

 

Image credit: Flickr aloha75

One small step

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If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

 

Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull 

Can I see tea?

From the vaults. Dedicated to all teachers about to embark on delivering the new Computing curriculum…

All Change Please!

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Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your facebook hacking app later – which reminds me, you…

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