Talking ’bout Generation Z

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All Change Please! recently came across a number of articles that served to remind it exactly how out of date our schools and the current curriculum is.

First there was this ill-considered reporting of a finding that students do less well in academic examinations if they have used computers while studying. Duh! When will it be finally realised that perhaps it’s the curriculum and the methods of assessment that need to change?

Today’s young people – born and growing up in this Century and known as Generation Z – are just not the same as we were when we were young. They have a substantially different mindset that sees the world in ways we often find it hard to imagine and engage with. This article gives a least some interesting insights, as does this report.

Briefly, and generally speaking, today’s teenagers are:

  • True digital natives, unencumbered by memories of the 20th Century
  • Highly proactive and entrepreneurial
  • Have a sense of unsettlement and insecurity in terms of the future.
  • Globally and environmentally aware
  • Communicating and sharing information in a highly visual way
  • Highly IT literate and able to adapt and personalise products
  • Seeing school as an important social gathering
  • Often experiencing inappropriate and unsuccessful use of new technologies in the classroom
  • Using digital devices to facilitate and control their growing independence.

But what about the children who for one reason or another are not able, or do not wish to access the online world and become self-starting entrepreneurs?  MrArtist, our Generation Baby Boomer guest blogger, observed:

“Interesting the big point seems to be how the walk home with friends has become the social place for face to face interaction. In a no-man’s land, where teachers have been released from their poor attempts at learning how to teach with technology, and pre when parents start attempting to have their own ineffectual influence on the student’s time and on-line activities.

In this digital and ‘social’ world, I wonder and worry about the poor unfortunate lonely kid. You know, the one that doesn’t have friends, or has weird parents and consequently becomes either bullied or an outcast (or maybe that was me/you?!). I’m sure it still happens. I can remember some of them; the teacher’s pet girl who was an unfortunate shade of ginger, freckles and teeth. The odd-looking vicar’s son who walked the perimeter of the playground, alone, clutching a book looking down as he paced, like a priest until break was at last over. The boy that always smelled of urine and would have had friends if anyone could have got close enough. And then there was that poor RE teacher who just didn’t stand a chance from day one.

My thought is, apart from that unfortunate kid (or teacher) maybe not being allowed a phone, what friends would they have to be with on Faceboot, Twatter or What’sAppDoc?

I can only think the loneliness of the long distance sufferer is only amplified by modern technology and social connectivity? But then again, maybe there’s a Faceboot group for that? A special place for Nerds, Dweebs and Loners? Isn’t the internet wonderful? A place for anyone and everyone. Anything goes these days, even socks with sandals and cardigans is cool these days (except my kids tell me “cool” is not cool to say these days!). In any case, no one needs to be an outcast any more… assuming they’re allowed a phone and access to the internet, any website is free for them to revengefully troll away to their heart’s content within any freely available comments section!”


So how are we taking Generation Z’s learning and social needs and wants into account in our efforts to prepare them for their futures?  Kenneth Baker’s latest report has the answer – we’re completely failing to prepare students for the digital revolution of course:

“The government’s White Paper has a firm commitment for students to focus on seven academic subjects at GCSE – English language, English literature, maths, two sciences, a modern or ancient language, geography or history, plus probably a third science. This is word-for-word the curriculum laid down by the Education Act of 1904, though it added three subjects – drawing, cooking for girls, and carpentry or metalwork for boys.”

Baker identifies the key skills and attributes for work-ready students:

  • Good reasoning skills
  • The ability to examine and solve problems.
  • Experience of working in teams.
  • An ability to make data-based decisions – they are “data savvy”.
  • Social skills – particularly the confidence to talk to and work with adults from outside school.
  • The skills of critical-thinking, active listening, presentation and persuasion.
  • Practical skills: the ability to make and do things for real.
  • Basic business knowledge.

None of which are even dreamt of in Nick Glibb’s philosophy.

And Baker goes on to provide an eight-point plan for the Digital Revolution:

  1. Primary schools should bring in outside experts to teach coding.
  2. All primaries should have 3D printers and design software.
  3. Secondary schools should be able to teach computer science, design and technology or another technical/practical subject in place of a foreign language GCSE.
  4. The computer science GCSE should be taken by at least half of all 16-year-olds.
  5. Young Apprenticeships should be reintroduced at 14, blending a core academic curriculum with hands-on learning.
  6. All students should learn how businesses work, with schools linked to local employers.
  7. Schools should be encouraged to develop a technical stream from 14 to 18 for some students, covering enterprise, health, design and hands-on skills.
  8. Universities should provide part-time courses for apprentices to get Foundation and Honours degrees.

It’s just a shame Mr Baker did not have the same insights when he drafted the subjects of the National Curriculum nearly 30 years ago – if he had, we really would have a world-beating education system by now.

Glibbipedia Hacked!

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In which Mr Glibbly searches for the internet but fails to find it.

This is the story of Mr Glibbly. As you are probably already aware, Glibblys are well-known for the often thoughtless and superficial things they say in a smooth and slippery sort of way.

Mr Glibbly is a politician, which is an ideal profession for a Glibbly. Mr Glibbly is a very important man, because he decides what millions of our children will have to learn in our schools for many years to come. The country can’t afford for Mr Glibbly to get it wrong. But the problem is, although Mr Glibbly knows a great deal about a lot of things, he doesn’t know anything at all about teaching and learning or how to use the internet. And that’s quite a problem.

A little while ago, Mr Glibbly was due to give a speech. It was going to be a very important speech, and he thought he would show how clever he was to everyone who was listening. So Mr Glibbly decided to explain why you couldn’t learn anything from the internet. Here’s what he said, in his usual Glibbly sort of way:

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you Google it. But the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of google searches which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’.“

Silly Mr Glibbly. He didn’t realise that what he said would reveal his entire lack of understanding about how to search the internet and how good teachers teach. Would you believe it – Mr Glibbly thinks that a good education for the 21st century is exactly the same as the one they had back in the 19th Century?

Now, as everyone (except it seems Mr Glibbly) knows, if you ‘Google’ something, you don’t just only click on the link to Wikipedia. It can be a useful starting point, but you are almost certainly going to need to check out some of the other links. If you search for ‘Radiation’, all you have to do is look a little way down towards the bottom of the first page of results and there is a link to a site called ‘Radiation for Kids‘.

And there, had Mr Glibbly had any digital skills and understanding at all, he would have found the following ever-so simple explanation that even All Change Please! can understand:

‘Radiation. All objects radiate energy and heat, even your own body. However, the radiation coming from hotter objects is more intense than that coming from cooler objects. Radiation leaves an object in the form of waves. The hotter an object, the shorter the wavelength of this radiation.’

And there are plenty of other similar sites that perfectly adequately explain all the other terms Mr Glibbly referenced, and each without the need to search for the meaning of other words.

Now sadly it is true to say that in some schools children are not properly taught the skills of using search engines, appropriate search terms or to be able to critically assess the value of the information they find. That’s a pity, because that’s one of the really basic skills everyone needs in the 21st Century. But fortunately there are plenty of other capable and confident children who know how to find pretty much anything they want to learn about on the internet. Quite unlike Mr Glibbly.

But meanwhile let’s re-write what Mr Glibbly said and substitute the word ‘encyclopedia’ (you remember – those big books we used to use when we were at school) for ‘Wikipedia’…

“Say, for example, you are reading an article about nuclear energy, and come across an unfamiliar term: radiation. So you look it up in an encyclopedia. But the first paragraph mentions another unfamiliar term: particles. So you look it up, but the definition for ‘particles’ uses another unfamiliar term: ‘subatomic’. The definition of which in turn contains the unfamiliar terms ‘electrons’, ‘photons’ and ‘neutrons’, and so on and so forth in an infinite series of encyclopedia articles which take the reader further and further away from the original term ‘radiation’. “

So it seems the problem Mr Glibbly described is not specific to the internet, but to the transmission of knowledge in general. But of course what Mr Glibbly doesn’t understand is that teaching involves rather more than just standing at the front of rows of obedient children reeling out lots of old-fashioned facts for them to memorise. Indeed, let’s re-write his paragraph yet again…

“Say, for example, your teacher is telling you about nuclear energy, and uses an unfamiliar term: radiation. As you, unlike many others in your class, are not afraid to look stupid by admitting you don’t know what radiation is, so you put your hand up and ask. The teacher explains what it is, but in doing so uses another unfamiliar term: ‘particles’, so up goes your hand again, and so on with all the other terms until the teacher can’t stand it any more and just tells you to be quiet and in future pay more attention to what he’s saying.”

In each example – the internet, the encylopedia, the teacher – it’s exactly the same problem. It’s not the technology or having the knowledge that makes the difference, it’s how well the writer or presenter can explain the specialist terms in ways that can easily be understood by the non-specialist. Mr Glibbly can’t be so clever if he hasn’t realised that yet, can he?

Meanwhile Mr Df-ingE continues to try to attract high-flying academic graduates into the classroom at the expense of people who actually know how to effectively communicate the underlying concepts of their subject and to engage children in the classroom. Perhaps what Mr Glibbly should be doing is to try and somehow help break the cycle of large numbers of children pursuing academic subjects through to university only to discover that the only job they can get is teaching children academic subjects through to university only to discover, and so on… If there was less emphasis on theoretical academic subjects for all it might help a bit with the teacher recruitment crisis too.

Meanwhile it might be a good idea for Mr Glibbly to discover how to use a search engine to learn a thing or two about what education is really all about. And to listen more attentively to what the teaching profession is telling him.

Many people say that Mr Glibbly isn’t really the most suitable person to be in charge of determining the school curriculum. What do you think?

Image © Tristram Shepard

Now this is what I call an Importance Statement

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The attention-grabbing building above, called the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, is in Shinjuko, Tokyo, one of the main centres of the vast capital of Japan. Completed in October 2008 and designed by Kenzo Tange, Japan’s most famous architect, it sits between the major railway interchange hub and a burgeoning business district that includes the impressive twin towers of the Tokyo Municipal Headquarters. The architect’s brief included the stipulation that the building should not be rectangular –  something that has very clearly been achieved.

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Now you might be forgiven for thinking that the building, with its 50 floors, is perhaps a luxury apartment building or hotel, or at the very least the headquarters of a multi-national company. But you’d be wrong, because it’s a University building. Described as a ‘vertical campus’ for 10,000 students it is occupied by three vocational departments – the Tokyo Mode Gakuen Fashion School, the HAL Tokyo School of Information Technology and Design, and the Shuto Ikō School of Medicine. It incorporates a 3-storey high atrium “to substitute as a ‘schoolyard’, called the ‘Student Lounge’ and multi-use corridors where communication can flourish.”

Tange’s design is intended to represent a cocoon, and as such symbolize  the academic care that is provided, and “Embraced within this incubating form, students are inspired to create, grow and transform.

It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by Emporis.com.

And it’s not alone. The Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers is a similar 36 story vocational educational facility just outside Nagoya Railway station, also completed in 2008.

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There’s no question that these structures make a clear statement of intent as to the importance Japan places on its vocational education.

Fast forward (or should that be backwards?) to 2012, and here’s Michael Gove defining the way forward for school buildings in the UK:

We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

And according to the Guardian at the time:

“Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.”

The templates tell architects new schools should have:

“no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down”.

In this case, there’s no question that these guidelines make a clear statement of intent as to the lack of importance the UK places on its vocational education.

 

Photos © Tristram Shepard

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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Terminal Report

school-assemblyA typical English School from both 1968 and 2014

All Change Please! has just received a copy of a speech made at the end of last term by the Headteacher of a school near you.

Well boys, as the end of the Michaelmas Term draws nigh here at the Michael Gove Academy Comprehensive Free Grammar High School it is time to reflect on the past year. I must of course first highlight the outstanding number of students who achieved entrance to an Oxbridge College, and with the record number of Open Scholarships being awarded. Our A level and GCSE grades were also the best ever recorded. As you know I dislike highlighting the success of individual departments, but this year the results in English, Pure Mathematics and Science were exceptional. Meanwhile on the Sports field we excelled in Rugby, Cricket and Rowing, easily out-playing all local and national sides.

But I must also of course mention the recreational subjects such as Art, Music and Drama that provide you with some well-earned respite from the demands of your academic studies. In Drama we were enthralled by the performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by the English department and the Middle School. I must confess I dislike modern, populist interpretations of such classic works, and so I was delighted that it was set in Ancient Rome and performed in Latin. Then of course there were the exciting annual visits to see the Gleaming Spires of Oxbridge and Cambridge, and the outings to the Houses of Parliament and the Old Bailey.

It is of course sad when members of staff leave us, and it is with such regret that at the end of this term, due to the decline in numbers taking the subject, we must say goodbye to Miss Paint, our part-time art teacher. We also say farewell to Mr Word, Head of ICT, as of course there is no longer any need to learn how to use computers, but he will shortly be replaced by Mr Coding. Meanwhile our Careers Master, Mr Jobsworth, is also retiring, fortuitously as it happens as funding for his post has been withdrawn by the government. His strong, ideology-led  left-wing bias will be greatly missed. However, with everyone now bound for a Russell Group University anyway and a job for life, this will allow greater funds to be made available where they are really needed. And indeed we have been fortunate to secure the services of Dr Wu, who next term will be teaching us all how to speak Mandarin.

But Christmas is also a time to think of others, less fortunate than ourselves. So let us pause to think for a moment about those children who attend so-called 20th Century schools and are often forced against their will to work together, or ‘collaborate’ as I believe the term is. They are regularly asked to do projects and solve creative problems, but fail miserably in doing so due to their complete lack of knowledge and lack of rigor. And as a result they are quite unable to write essays or participate in their school Debating Societies. These poor souls will likely spend their sad and miserable lives perhaps running businesses, working demeaningly in the Creative Arts, or becoming popular entertainers or social workers.

So, let us end with our traditional Christmas Cheer. All together now:

Three hearty cheers for Gove!
(For who?)
For Gove –
(Why, what did he do?)
I thought you knew;
He saved our schools from the future!
3 Cheers for the wonderful Gove!

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“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” (AA Milne)

Of course, as we all know, in reality Michael the Gove was a Minister of Very Little Brain.

Lower image credit: Ernest H (no relation) Shepard

On this day…

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Throughout history, October the 28th has been a generally unremarkable date. Evelyn Waugh was born on this date in 1903, as was Francis Bacon in 1909, and Julia Roberts in 1967.  ‘Black Monday’ was on the 28th October, a day in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and of course who can forget that in the year 97, Emperor Nerva was forced by the Praetorian Guard to adopt general Marcus Ulpius Trajanus as his heir and successor. Well, that’s what Wikipedia claims, anyway.

October 28 is the 301st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 64 days remaining until the end of the year. And that’s pretty much it.

There are, however, two highly significant events that have occurred on this date. The first, in 1962, was Russia’s announcement that it would dismantle its missiles based in Cuba, ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. And yes, you guessed it, the second, in 2009, was the launch of All Change Please!

Over those 4 years there have been over 19,000 views. Thunderbirds Are Gove! remains the most popular, with last December’s The Gove of Christmas Present claiming the Number 2 spot, and, for some reason All Change Please! can’t quite fathom, coming in at Number 3 is Invisible Learning – a strange term for so many to search for.

Meanwhile All Change Please!’s favourites of the year, in case you missed any of them, have been:

The Alternative Guide to Learning

Can I see tea?

The Master Plan

Horses for Courses

It’s… Michael Gove’s Flying Circus

E.T. Phone Home

Going for Old

Oh No Minister

and of course, The Gove of Christmas Present

So, with its October break already a distant memory, All Change Please! enters its fifth year ready as always to continue broadcasting its thoughts on the need for major change in the world of education.

And to help it on its way, here’s a song about Ofsted from Fascinating Aida

Photocredit:  Racchio  http://www.flickr.com/photos/racchio/948513691/

Little Diss Trust

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Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Britain to soak up its history. Countless heritage visitor experience centres provide a glimpse of what our life was like in the past. The latest addition to these highly profitable venues are of course our schools where the public can immerse themselves in what it was like to receive a English education in the 1950s.

Elizabeth Truss speaks about curriculum reform
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/elizabeth-truss-speaks-about-curriculum-reform

All Change Please! will leave it to others to challenge the reliability of the use of PISA statistics in Ms Truss’ speech, but meanwhile here a few responses to some of the other statements she made:

“Whatever pupils want to do after school, and whether vocational or technical training is right for them, a solid academic core helps them get there.”

So why does the ‘core’ need to be academic? Indeed isn’t it precisely because the core is academic that so many non-academically orientated children fail to grasp the very basics of spelling, grammar and times-tables?

“..our EBacc prioritises the subjects employers value.”

Not according to most businesses who want so-called ‘soft’ skills – creative problem-solving, communication, team work and collaboration.

“Good schools are taking advantage, providing activities like debating, public speaking, negotiation – a school in my constituency is offering business mentoring, for example.”

So why have you removed the speaking and listening component from GCSE? And why isn’t business studies part of the National Curriculum?’

“Pupils who haven’t yet achieved a C at GCSE will keep studying Maths.”

But as they don’t have to do an exam at the end they probably won’t bother to turn up to the weekly lesson.

“By 2020, the vast majority of young people will be studying maths right up to 18 – every one of them achieving the highest standard they possibly can.”

Just because they study something does not mean they will achieve the highest possible standard they can. But of course as you’re not a teacher you couldn’t be expected to understand that.

“The earnings return for a level 3 apprenticeship in engineering or manufacturing is double that of arts, media or business administration apprenticeships.”

But if your interests, abilities and talents lie more in the creative and performing arts or business, you’re unlikely to make very much money following a career – or even get a job – in a STEM subject.  And the arts, media and business also make a very substantial contribution to the UK economy, or at least they did before the EBacc was introduced.

“Our new design and technology courses focus on the practical application of science. It will expose students to the most exciting and transformative technologies – 3D printing, robotics, biomimicry, computer-aided design.”

So why did you remove any specific reference to these exciting and transformative technologies in the final version of the revised curriculum?’

“Coding – one of the essential skills of the 21st century – will now start at age 5. We are aiming to develop one of the most rigorous computing curricula in the world, where pupils will learn to handle detailed, abstract computing processes and over-11s will learn 2 programming languages.”

Coding is the new motor-vehicle maintenance. It’s now mostly done by a computer via someone much cheaper in India. Being able to code, even at a detailed and abstract level, in itself is unlikely get anyone a worthwhile job in the future – a much wider, creative problem identification and solving skill-set that identifies and meets needs and opportunities in a business context is what’s really required, and which unfortunately our children will not be prepared for while at school.

“People say that technology has transformed the world. But it’s actually made writing more important – so much of the new technology requires written communication. I think it’s right schools focus on getting the basics right”

So much so that new technology – in terms of predictive texting and voice recognition and activation – is about to fundamentally challenge the very nature of written communication. Perhaps that’s what we should be debating and working out ways of preparing children to deal with?

We are indeed fortunate, are we not, to be able to rest assured that our Heritage Education Curriculum is safe in the hands of the National Truss.

Image credit: Dullhunk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/380814854

D&T Teachers just wanna have fun

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“Well, thank goodness the long, dreary summer holidays are finally over and us D&T teachers can at last get back into our workshops and prepare for another term of fun making things. Perhaps I’d better just have a quick look at the new D&T National curriculum we’re supposed to start following. Now, let’s see, Yes, all the usual cutting, hitting, measuring, bending and gluing things, no change there then. Hmm. What’s this ‘Biomimicry’ I wonder?. And building robots could be good. Wait, this looks more interesting: ‘such as 3D printing’? That sounds more fun. Note to self: drop by the Head’s office to tell him we absolutely must have one of these 3D printers or Ofsted will turn us into an Academy.

Right, next I suppose I had better completely re-write the department’s schemes of work. It’s hard work being Head of D&T – it’s not all about having fun, you know.

Ten minutes later…

Bash Street D&T Department: New National Curriculum Scheme of Work

Year 7

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 10 cms in any direction (the largest size our 3D printer can manage), is made of plastic and is bright green (the only colour we have).

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Year 8

The Brief:  A local toy shop has asked you to develop a design for a new children’s toy that it would like to be able to make and sell. They would like it to be based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films.

The toy can be made any in any shape, size or material, providing it is no more than 10 cms in any direction and can be made from green plastic using our new 3D printing machine….

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Year 9 – Sustainable Biomimicry

The Brief:  Find out what the term Biomimicary means and explain it to your teacher in a way he or she will be able to easily understand.  A local charity has asked you to develop a design for a plastic duck to promote awareness of nature conservation and eco-sustainability. The duck should incorporate an electronic circuit to make the eyes flash on and off. Work together as team to make as many as possible.

The duck can be made any in any shape, size or material, providing it is no more than 10 cms in any direction, looks like a duck and can be made from green plastic using the department’s new 3D printing machine….

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Year 10  GCSE Projects

The Brief:  Robot Wars. Collaboratively work together as a team to design and build a robot capable of completely destroying all the other robots made by your class.
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Supporting Project: Values in D&T.  Developments in Technology tend to be driven by the need for military supremacy in defence and attack situations. Discuss the contribution your robotic device could make to World Peace and the end of human suffering.

Year 11  GCSE Projects

Project 1. Disassembly/circular economy activity

The Brief: Carefully take apart the department’s 3D printer to analyse how it could be manufactured more successfully in order to ensure all the parts can be re-used.

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Project 2. MIni-enterprise / Entrepreneurship

The Brief: The D&T department urgently needs to raise money to buy a new 3D printer as it can’t work out how to fit the previous one back together again. Work together as a team to design and develop a range of aesthetically pleasing artefacts that could be quickly and profitably sold.

But of course the potential of 3D printing is enormous, as are the issues. The challenge now is how to plan D&T lessons that provide real opportunities for students to learn how to design for 3D printing. Pressing the button is one thing  – creating 3D products that are practical, easy and satisfying to use is another.

What? Oh and you think I should read this article?

The Future of Industrial Design http://artworks.arts.gov/?p=17624

Hmm. It says that making products is out of date now and we should be concentrating on designing systems and interactive software? Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun now does it?

Image credits:

(Top) Keith Kissel http://www.flickr.com/photos/kakissel/6165114664

(Second from bottom) Alex Healing http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexhealing/3383397914

(Bottom) Eldoreth  http://www.flickr.com/photos/eldoreth/6618835125

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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