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

D&T: pushing up the daisies?

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‘I come to bury D&T, not to praise it’

There have been recent reports that the draft Design & Technology National Curriculum is in fact to be seriously reviewed by the DfE. It would however be unwise to expect that what will be eventually published will be substantially different from what is there already. For example, given the weight of the pressure group that got it there in the first place, horticulture is likely to remain. Meanwhile the extent of the document is unlikely to occupy much more than its current length, providing little opportunity for all the detail that die-hard D&T-ers would perhaps like to see included. It’s almost as if, having spent the past 20 years complaining about the extent of the requirements in the specification, D&T teachers somehow can’t seem to live without them.

At best the given examples might be changed to be somewhat more rigorous and ‘hi-tech’, and the relationship between problem-solving and growing food and learning how to cook it made more clearly separated. While this will doubtless please many within the D&T community, the danger is that it heralds a future in which D&T continues on pretty much as before. It remains to be seen whether D&T can fully recover from its currently proposed portrayal as a hi-tech subject reduced to planting, growing and flower-arranging, but at the same time it has been disappointing to see the outright rejection of horticulture and the potential of repair and maintenance activities as possible worthwhile content. Maybe now is actually the time to bury D&T and see what might emerge from the soil instead?

While there are a number of schools that have succeeded in developing show-case D&T departments that demonstrate what could have been, there remain too many that still provide an incoherent, meaningless learning experience that fails to deliver successful designing or making. The reality in too many D&T departments is that the teaching of high-level craft skills has been replaced by the teaching of low-level design skills. And even where it is currently delivered well, is it still appropriate education for the 21st century – or will it just become an initial training ground for those interested in working in hi-tech engineering-based industries? All Change Please! somehow rather doubts D&T will suddenly start to embrace and emphasise collaborative, sustainable design and a DIY approach centred around localised production using 3D printing, not to mention the discussion of the development of the broader skills of analytic and creative thought and action along with the understanding of the relationship between people and technology that everyone is going to need to survive during their coming lifetimes.

Which is why it was initially refreshing to read the Design Council’s Bel Read presenting a new, more balanced agenda for Design Education. To summarise, essentially what is proposed is a programme involving design awareness, the application of user-centred design methods, a multidisciplinary approach, the development of technical skills and an industrial, academic and cultural framework.

All Change Please! has no problems with this of course – indeed it’s not that different from what was being proposed and pioneered in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, on reflection, it’s not nearly as simple as it seems (though, to be fair, the article is intended as a starting point for discussing rather than as a final specification). First, there’s a notable infrequence of the use of the word ‘creativity’, which is an essential component of design activity, and one that desperately needs to be more evident in our schools. Secondly there’s a complete absence of the word ‘sustainability’. And finally no reference to collaboration. So as such it continues to reflect an extension of 20th century professional industrial design practice, rather than something that might prepare all children for the future. And of course it entirely ignores the central issue of exactly who is going to deliver this enlightened approach. Not to mention what the DfE’s response might be.

Design Education has an essential contribution to make in the preparation of all today’s children to live and work in tomorrow’s post-industrial society. Its future lies out beyond Planet D&T as currently charted, engulfing the spiral arm of the galaxy located in regions known as art & design, business education and computing, and indeed all of the existing curriculum clusters.

Meanwhile, in other news, DATA have just published their draft response to the D&T proposals. It can be downloaded from their site here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Sue Murray