Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

D&T: No More Logos Any More?

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In a recent speech, Diana Choulerton, the new D&T subject lead at Ofsted, is reported to have made a number of observations made about the current delivery of D&T in schools that make good sense in terms of the challenges that lie ahead for the subject. For example:
• Design [in D&T] isn’t really DESIGN’. There isn’t much TECHNOLOGY.
• D&T lacks challenge. Is there real problem-solving happening?
• The issues five years on remain the same.
• There is an over-focus on making [and] ‘taking something home’.

Well all good sense, except for just one or two things, that is. For example, apparently Ms Choulerton suggests there is too much ‘soft’ D&T, e.g., designing a logo, adding decoration or suggesting a colour. Now in a sense she may well be correct in that there is too much, but the real problem is that many teachers tend to deliver these activites at too low a level of challenge and content. But in highlighting the matter, she’s giving the impression that these things are of less importance – you can almost hear all those HoDs busily tappity-tap-tapping ‘Ofsted says that we mustn’t do the logo project anymore‘.

In reality these so-called ‘soft’ activities (which are by no means soft in their practice) provide excellent contexts in which to teach children about creativity, rapid iterative modelling, the nature and use of symbolic representation and the psychological aspects of design, and as such the very language of the subject – which is of fundamental importance to learners being able to progress. Effectively expressing the quality of a product or service in a simple, distinctive and memorable symbol of logo presents a considerable challenge, as does producing a final detailed specification that enables it to be accurately reproduced and applied – and these days this usually involves producing an animated version for use on digital platforms. Meanwhile such work provides an opportunity to start to discuss the impact and reality of the global impact of branding and marketing, without which design as we know it today would not exist in the market place. So-called ‘hard’ D&T (which for some reason presumably only occurs when ‘hard’ materials are used?) tends to ignore, or at best minimise, these important, highly transferable areas of knowledge and skill.

All Change Please! wonders just how extensive Ms Choulerton’s current awareness is of the level of technical skills are needed with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator to create images? No, not very. Thought not. Meanwhile finalising the design of a logo is really just the start. Anyone who has ever prepared artwork or a digital file for a professional printer (which All Change Please! rather doubts Ms Choulerton ever has) will tell you that there are then a whole long list of things you never dreamt of that have to precisely specified if you want want your design to look anything like the way you intended – there’s just as much high-level knowledge of traditional and modern reprographic print technologies needed as for 3D manufacture. And if you’re still not convinced, then it’s perhaps worth mentioning that a good logo designer can earn a very decent wage, and there’s a much greater demand for graphic designers than there is for 3D product designers.

So surely what Ms Choulterton should have said was that too many so-called ‘soft’ D&T tasks provide excellent opportunities to learn valuable D&T skills, but are poorly taught?

Screenshot 2015-11-01 12.25.07Milton Glaser’s original, now iconic 1977 ‘I Heart New York’ logo is known and copied the world over. Each year it earns New York State millions of dollars in licensing fees.

Meanwhile Ms Choulterton is also reported to have provided a list of projects that shouldn’t be included as part of a 21st Century curriculum, such as ‘storage, clocks, 2D logos and moisture sensors‘ (for some reason 3D logos appear to be OK then?). Ah, there those HoDs go again – ‘Ofsted says we’re not allowed to do these popular and successful projects anymore‘. But as All Change Please! has always maintained: ‘It’s not what you design it’s the way you design it’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the projects she highlights, provided they are delivered in the right way – storage, telling the time, creating 2D logo identities and using sensors are just as much 21st century problems as any other, and indeed new technologies provide plenty of opportunity for them to be solved in new and exciting ways – though again the real problem is that teachers are delivering them that way.

Indeed it’s a shame that she then seems to have missed the opportunity to promote the approach of the digital maker movement, which is the one thing that could really save the subject and provide it with an exciting way forward into the 20th century. With the current severe shortage of teachers in the subject, somehow D&T needs a fresh start with a new breed of teachers who have not come from a 3D-obsessed, ‘handicraft’ background, but a wide range of more broadly-based design, marketing and service-related areas, including architecture and the environment, communication, IT and business.

And finally, while we’re D&T talking, the community is busy trying to convince the government that the subject is important because it will produce future generations of designers who will in turn produce higher-quality products for export. While that may indeed be the best strategy for helping ensure the subject survives in the current climate of El-Bãcco and forecasts of severe teacher shortage storms, it’s important to remember that D&T is primarily there for the majority who won’t ever become designers and technologists. What these children will gain by taking the subject is to become better and more creative problem-solvers with an increased understanding of and sense of empathy for the human needs and wants of others, and the ability to communicate their ideas and suggestions for the future – just the sort of so-called ’soft’ skills most employers are looking for it seems.

 

BREAKING NEWS…

The Df-ingE has just announced the final specification and assessment structure for new GCSE Design & Technology courses. They can be downloaded here:

Assessment arrangements unveiled for GCSE design and technology

D&T Subject Content November 2015

There are no obvious major changes, but some minor ones, particularly in the weightings of the assessment structure. Whatever, it’s too late to complain now and it’s up to the exam boards to make some sense out of them. At least there’s no more horticulture any more…

 

6526559341_0d29281c4b_oAh – doesn’t that feel better now…?

Image credits:

Flickr/Alexander Edward

Milton Glaser/Tristram Shepard

Flickr/Cokestories

 

BROKEN NEWS…

5179626687_0c40c7ab41_zLong delays expected in any sort of change

Statement to Parliament: GCSE in design and technology: delay in teaching

Further to its statement today that new Design and Technology GCSEs are now to be delayed a further year until first examination in 2019, the government has also announced that all new UK industrial and technological development will be delayed until the same date. As a result no new or upgraded TVs, mobiles, computers or any other technologically advanced products will now be made available to consumers until the summer of 2019.

This is in order to give ministers a chance to catch up on what is going on in the world today and to be able to prepare better informed spin, thus avoiding the sort of embarrassment that followed David Cameron’s recent quite impractical, crazy ‘cloud cuckoo land’ proposals to ban the use of certain social network apps.

Meanwhile between now and 2017, some one million children will be denied the chance to undertake a GCSE course in Design and Technology that is more appropriate to the 21st century than to the 19th and 20th – though this will not be a problem as the UK will have got correspondingly further and further behind the rest of the world.

These changes will ensure that the UK prepares students and businesses well for life in a slowly changing, largely backward-looking world“, Nick Glibb didn’t say as he completely failed to grasp the irony in his actual statement that change in educational provision was being slowed down to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

This will give us all that little bit more time to find a dictionary in order to find out what the word ‘Iterative’ means.” Glibb glibbly continued. “After all this approach to design was only identified by the Assessment of Performance Unit in the 1989, so by 2019 children will only be 30 years behind the time.”

 

Photo credit: Flickr/Will Clouser

 

Chinese Takeaways

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Creativity lessons in China: How many different uses can you think of for a pair of chopsticks?

China turns to UK for lessons in design and technology – Education

All Change Please! didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry when it read the above story. It covered the announcement that there’s a crisis in China and they need to adopt a more creative approach in their schools to enable their nation to be able to design as well as make stuff in the future. To help solve the problem they paid for a delegation of D&T teachers from the UK to go out and advise them.

Partly because no-one had invited it on a freebie trip to China, but mostly because it wondered what effective advice the delegation might be able pass on, All Change Please! thought it would provide its own D&T ‘Takeaways’ for the Chinese Government, based on established UK practice:

1. Get a politician to develop the specification for D&T, based on her limited experience of what she did in school in the early 1990s. Ensure Horticulture is included simply as a result of pressure from a powerful parliamentary lobby group.

2. Develop an examination system that makes is as easy as possible to objectively assess performance, and consequently penalises students who take risks and demonstrate creativity and initiative.

3. Ensure the final examination includes a rigorous written paper that does not in any way measure design capability but is worth at least half of the marks.

4. Encourage every school to buy a 3D printer so they can mass-produce little green dragons to sell to willing parents in order to raise money to buy another 3D printer to produce even more little green dragons.

5. Decrease the status of the subject by significantly undermining its value in school league tables, so as to suggest it is only suitable for low-ability children.

6. Fail to give D&T a central role in unifying STEM (or better still STEAM) subjects, and build Great Walls between all subjects.

7. Ensure a substantial shortfall of suitably qualified teachers by drastically cutting back the number of available teacher training courses.

8. And – most important of all – fail to make any substantial investment in staff development over an extended period of time, i.e. a minimum of 25 years.

Fortune Cookie* say:  if China can manage to completely ignore All Change Please!‘s Takeaways, then we might indeed soon be seeing more things that are labelled Designed and Made in China. Especially as All Change Please! has every confidence that the DATA delegation will have passed on rather more positive advice of its own.

‘We were most interested to learn that Junk Modelling did not involve making scale replicas of boats’, a spokesperson for the Chinese government didn’t say. ‘The delegation offered to send us Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss to advise us further on a long term basis, but we said No thanks – not for all the D&T in China’.

‘However we are planning to stage the John Adams’ Opera Dyson In China.’

* Myth-busting fascinating fact: Chinese Fortune Cookies were actually invented in Japan and popularised by the US in the early 20th Century. They are not eaten in China. Well that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway.

Image credit: Flickr/Simon Law

The Joy of Trending

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Just in case you didn’t know already, All Change Please!‘s alter-ego curates two Flipboard magazines created especially for students of the Creative Arts, Design and Technology.  All Change Please! recently managed to catch up with itself and asked what they were all about.

First of all, can you explain what a Flipboard magazine is?
Flipboard is an app that works on a variety of tablets and smart phones, although the magazines can be viewed on any PC with a web browser connection. The app brings together images and articles from the web selected by the curator into what are known as magazines. The ‘pages’ can then be easily ‘flipped’ through. An image and the first few paragraphs of an article are shown, which gives just enough of an idea to know whether it’s something one wants to look at in more detail before opening the original source web page. The results look stunning on screen, and it’s a pleasure to use. And of course, it’s all completely free. There are a few advertising pages within the articles themselves, but they are not obtrusive or offensive. As you’d expect it is available worldwide, anytime, anyplace.

How easy is it to create a magazine?
Very simple. So easy that even a teacher could do it, let alone a student! Of course it would be great if teachers of Art, Craft Design & Technology started to create their own personalised magazines for their students that directly supported their courses. Students could then flip the pages they found particularly interesting into their own magazines. Even better, similar to the way students use sketch books as a reference journal to collect together things that interest them, they could create their own magazines and share them with each other. And perhaps their teachers could then flip the best finds to create a bespoke departmental Flipboard magazine.

So what’s special about AC:DC and All Things Design?
There are a lot of amazing images and fascinating articles on the web about everything to do with Art, Craft, Design and Technology. Some are very superficial and others are inappropriate for some reason, so the problem is finding the ones that are just right for students of the subject. The content of these two magazines is carefully chosen to be exactly right for students between the ages of about 14 to 18. AC:DC  Art, Craft Design & Communication is aimed more broadly at all areas of Art & Design, while All Things Design is more for those doing 3D Product design based courses. But a lot of the material is suitable for both. As well as delivering inspiring images and ideas, the diversity of the material will considerably widen students’ awareness of all the wide variety of creative arts and design activities that are currently going on, as well as the historical and cultural dimensions of Art and Design. It’s intended to be playful, surprising and ask questions and arouse curiosity. Both magazines are updated on a near daily basis, so there’s always something new to discover.

I’ve heard a rumour that you’ve recently been trending?
Yes, that’s correct, though only in a modest sort of way. Until a couple of weeks ago about 250 people had viewed All Things Design at least once. Then someone who had over 600 followers tweeted it, and the numbers suddenly started to shoot up. After 3 days it had become 500 readers, but then suddenly on the 4th day it became 2000 and by the 7th day it was 5000. It then continued to grow but at a slower rate, but a week later it had climbed to over 7000. It’s very exciting to watch something trending online and to see the numbers escalate so quickly – one of the new, must-have experiences of the 21st Century! Especially as from some of the comments it was clear that these readers were coming in from all over the world. But it is still important to keep it in perspective, given that there are some 100 million global users of Flipboard!

It’s been interesting to try and analyse exactly what happened from the limited data Flipboard makes available. But it seems that it was just one link that proved to be particularly popular:

Olympic Skier Wears Mariachi-Inspired Race Suit for Mexico
http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/2014-winter-olympics-sochi-mexico-mariachi-race-suit

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So it was probably the combination of sport and fashion – a lethal cocktail of two extremely popular searches – that drove it onwards and upwards. Meanwhile as it started ‘trending’ a clever little algorithm buried deep on the Flipboard servers went into action and featured it on its ‘Flipboard Picks’ pages, so that then extended its exposure even further.

Surely every child should be learning about how things go viral on the internet. Or to put it another way, perhaps every child should be explaining to their teachers how things go viral on the internet?

And finally, why is there a photo of a large inflatable plastic duck on the cover of All Things Design?
I’m glad you asked me that! When I was an Industrial Design student we got fed up being asked to design high-end consumer goods that didn’t solve any problems that really needed solving. Someone suggested we might as well be designing yellow plastic ducks, so that’s what we did – we created a series of renderings, technical drawings and production models for what we called Yellow Plastic Duck Technology. If you look at some of my previous publications there’s often a photo somewhere of a yellow plastic duck – so it’s become somewhat of a personal signature!

So what are you waiting for? Click on the covers below to check the magazines out, and then make sure you subscribe! And if you are a teacher, pass the links on to your pupils before they pass them on to you!

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And finally… here’s some helpful advice to help you set up and maintain your on-line life more effectively – you are keeping up now, aren’t you?

http://mashable.com/2014/02/17/twitter-time/

Pass Notes: Design & Technology

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Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch  http://www.flickr.com/photos/agentfin/8205912475

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