Third annual Manchester Mini Maker Faire: Call for Makers

The third annual Manchester Mini Maker Faire will take place at the Museum of Science & Industry on 26-27 July this year and I’m pleased to say that the Call for Makers is now open for applications. For further details please see this post.

Please circulate this announcement to your contacts and lists of makers and, of course, make your own submissions….

Michael Gove, Education and Robots

No, this isn’t a cheap jibe about Gove being a robot! On 3rd March Michael Gove gave a speech about the future of vocational education. Interestingly a part of the speech concerned the possible impact of robotics and AI on employment. The term the minister used was ‘robolution’. The blog I posted on February 12 now seems almost prescient. The drive behind posting the blog on Feb 12 was two fold. First the KS3 Programme of Study for D&T requires a consideration of new and emerging technologies and clearly robotics is becoming a new and emerging technology. Secondly both I and Torben are interested in young people at school understanding so called disruptive technologies – see our paper with Nick Givens on this site. We have a disruptive technologies curriculum development project which will soon be piloting activities in schools. So watch this space!

D&T courses and network meetings

I’m running and involved in some courses and network meetings for  D&T and Computing  teachers later this term and next term. Full details are on the NW Digital D&T site:


Robots – in our future whether we like it or not!

Where do you see the future of robots? With C3PO, the innocuous and benevolent protocol droid in Star Wars or with the Terminator the implacable assassin sent from the future to destroy us? And as a result, what would you have young people learn about robotics?

Are robots really the next big thing? Will they be a disruptive technology changing the status quo, altering the way people live and work, providing new products and services and giving profit for shrewd investors? Who will win and who will lose as robots invade areas of activity previously carried out by humans. Already robots are widely used in manufacturing. There is more than a little interest in robots for military purposes. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects ) has significant interest in robotics. Their recent robotics challenge focused on search, rescue and alleviate with regard to disasters ( ) but it’s all to easy to see how this could become search and destroy. Robots may have a place in education supporting if not replacing teachers as evidenced by Garnet Valley School Board spending nearly $50,000 to purchase five humanoid robots that will assist teachers with the instruction of students with autism and other learning disabilities. ( James Dyson has decided to invest in robotics ( ) with a special emphasis on robots for the home. What impact will these have on the employment of those who make their living as cleaners? Some of the biggest commercial enterprises are gaining expertise in robotics through expensive acquisitions. Google has bought up seven robot companies ( ) plus Boston Dynamics a military robot-maker ( ) and Amazon has purchased Kiva Systems which makes robots used in shipping centers ( Japan is investing heavily in developing robots that might care for the elderly ( ). Even making love is not immune from the influence of robots as shown by the writing of David Levy in Love + Sex with Robots – less salacious and more informative than you might think at first sight ( )

Recent science fiction films have provided view points at two extremes. The film Robot and Frank makes a poignant case for the human-robot relation ( ) The RoboCop remake ( ) discusses the ethics of using robots to make decisions that have in the past been made by humans.

Illah Nourbakhsh in his brilliant book Robot Futures ( ) develops a range of scenarios in which the impact of robot behaviour isn’t what was intended by their inventors.  Illah suggests that in robots we have invented a new species that operates as a living glue between our physical world and the digital universe we have created. Robots can operate in the real world and at the same time can be fully connected to the digital world. This is already reflected in the development of an internet for robots ( ). Illah is impassioned in his plea for a robot future that is not dystopic:

“Robotics is becoming a potent force, but, like much of technology, it has no innate moral compass. It is destined to influence society, and I believe the early adopters are already apparent: corporations, militaries, governments, and a privileged band of technically savvy individuals. What is missing from this list is the interests of citizens and local communities, motivated neither by power nor by economic value, hoping to contribute to a sustainable quality of life. Our challenge and opportunity lies in becoming the vanguards of ever-better robot futures, and this means we must bend the lines of influence that robotics will forge. If we succeed, we make an alternative vision into soaring reality: robots as new, interactive media for making local change; communities empowered to measure, problem solve, demonstrate, and act to improve their conditions. In this possible robotic future, the robotics revolution can affirm the most nonrobotic quality of our world: our humanity.”   

And we teach children about robotics in our school curriculum in design & technology. The National curriculum isn’t prescriptive here. It provides opportunities through statements such as

Purpose of study

  • Through the evaluation of past and present design and technology, they develop a critical understanding of its impact on daily life and the wider world.


  • Use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs
  • Develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations


  • Investigate new and emerging technologies
  • Understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

Technical Knowledge

  • Apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].

These can be starting points for two aspects of the design and technology curriculum. The first aspect is that which develops in young people a perspective on any technology and the way it might be deployed. Here I would want young people to consider what robots might be able to do and whether it is appropriate for them to do these things. The second aspect is the development of technological capability so that young people would learn how to design, make and programme robots to carry out specific tasks. Both are essential for any holistic appreciation of robotics. It is easy to be seduced by the ‘fun’ of designing and making a robot without considering the wider implications of robots in society. Considering robots in society becomes fantasy if not grounded to some extent in the realities of coding, communication, control systems and actuators.

So I return to the question at the beginning what would you have young people learn about robotics?

Food in Academy Curricula

I have been asked to comment on the place of teaching food in Academies and this is my response….”

My understanding is that Academies are exempt from teaching the National Curriculum. The only yardstick by which you will be judged in the new accountability measures are GCSE performance which involves both the progress pupils make compared to their predicted performance across a suite of 8 subjects, the attainment in 8 subjects, the percentage of pupils achieving a C or better in English and math and the EBacc.

Progress 8 and Attainment 8 apply to

  • a double weighted English element (the English Language qualification will count for this element, but will only be double weighted if the pupil has also taken English Literature);
  • a double weighted maths element;
  •  three slots reserved for other EBacc subjects (sciences, computer science,  geography, history and languages).
  •  three slots that can be taken up by further qualifications from the range of EBacc subjects, or any other high value arts, academic, or vocational qualification. The department will produce a list of approved, high value vocational qualifications every year. English Literature will count in this group of subjects.

You can find the document at

I think d&t fits within the  any other high value arts, academic, or vocational qualification slot as an academic subject.

If an Academy does decide to follow the National curriculum then learning about food occurs in three places within the design & technology PoS

Within Make in the statements concerning Design, Make Evaluate

  • select from and use a wider, more complex range of materials, components and ingredients, taking into account their properties

The use of the term ‘ingredients’ implies that pupils will be designing and making with food

Within Technical knowledge

  • understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions

This statement can be applied to designing and making with food.

Within Cooking and Nutrition

  • pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating specifically at KS3
  • understand and apply the principles of nutrition and health § cook a repertoire of predominantly savoury dishes so that they are able to feed
  • themselves and others a healthy and varied diet
  • become competent in a range of cooking techniques [for example, selecting and preparing ingredients; using utensils and electrical equipment; applying heat in different ways; using awareness of taste, texture and smell to decide how to season dishes and combine ingredients; adapting and using their own recipes]
  • understand the source, seasonality and characteristics of a broad range of ingredients.

To my mind this is mainly a life skill approach and the problem with this for d&t is that to do this properly requires time in excess of what is normally available in the food technology component of d&t. This inevitably leads to pupils experiencing a very limited food technology programme at KS3 and poor preparation for food technology at KS4. The solution to this problem could be to place the teaching and learning required for Cooking and Nutrition into PSHE.

Young Foresight and Nuffield D&T KS4 Resources now on line

Young Foresight was a curriculum development initiative aimed at enhancing pupil creativity by developing pupils’ design ability through collaborative tasks in which groups of pupils designed, but did NOT make, products and services for the future that utilised new and emerging technologies. We believe that designing without making is still a valid pupil activity at Key Stage 3 and whilst some of the detail in these materials is now out of date the overall thrust is very relevant. The Young Foresight resources are available here

The Nuffield D&T materials for KS4 were published as five independent sets of resources to support material specific GCSEs. The resources produced by the project included Capability Tasks, Resources Tasks, Chooser Charts, Design Guides and these are available here.

In both the Young Foresight and Nuffield materials there are many illustrated activities aimed at supporting student engagement which are still worthwhile. We encourage teachers to modernise the activities. For example teachers are free to and cut and paste any useful illustrations into their own resources. If you do update any of the materials you might like to ask us to host copies of the new materials here so that others may benefit from the developments.

Technology Enhanced Learning in Design & Technology – Yes or No?

This blog post is from David Barlex and Ed Charlwood and will be posted here ( and on Ed’s blog (see and @mrcharlwood). It is the result of two concurrent influences. Ed Charlwood has just become an Apple Distinguished Educator and David Barlex is working with Alice Hudson, head teacher of Twyford School on developing a creativity and curiosity curriculum. Hence we are both interested in the potential of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). But before we rush headlong into adopting new and almost certainly expensive approaches we think it is important to identify the substance of the learning, indicate clearly the activities that will enable this learning and show how various forms of technology will enhance that learning.

We begin by thinking about the way in which a typical unit of work is developed. The teacher would probably identify a sequence of activities that she could orchestrate to provide the necessary learning. It would be possible for these activities to be conventional in the extreme and involve PowerPoint or Keynote presentation driven lessons accompanied by various worksheets. Within the confines of this conventional approach new technology can be used apparently to enhance learning.

In a Design & Technology context it might be used, for example, to replace traditional skills, as in the use of the almost ubiquitous laser cutter, to cut shapes from acrylic as opposed to cutting them by hand, perhaps to make key rings. The result of this is a superficially enhanced end product but not necessarily with an improvement in design skill or an enhanced understanding of design process. When we cry out for more creativity from students we contradict ourselves by offering the same, safe, procedural challenges, albeit enhanced with expensive technology substitutions.

So the question becomes how are we to use technology enhanced learning to move away from conventional approaches without falling into the inadequate ‘replacement trap’ described above? This is where Ed’s work with Apple comes into play. He learned about the framework for introducing technology enhanced learning devised by Dr Ruben Puentedura. It is in two parts; “enhancement” and “transformation” and uses the acronym SAMR.

Enhancement consists of Substitution and Augmentation.

Transformation consists of Modification and Redefinition.

In substitution, technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change.

In augmentation, technology acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.

In modification, technology allows for significant task redesign.

In redefinition, technology allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable

So an immediate question for David is:

“If we are developing a creativity and curiosity curriculum how do we move from enhancement to transformation?”

One way to answer this question is to consider a typical Design & Technology unit, one for example which requires students to acquire sufficient knowledge, understanding, skills and values to design and make a working prototype of some furniture for a kindergarten.

At this point, you may like to enroll to the iTuneU course Ed has created to employ some of the possibilities that new technologies promise. To do so, download the iTunesU app on an iOS device (iPad, iPhone,iPod) and follow this link:

If you do not have the facilities for doing this, we will pick out individual elements of the course (with screenshots) and address how they relate to the aforementioned SAMR model.

Example 1: Substitution

A specification worksheet is available for download from the iTunesU course as opposed to the teacher photocopying the class a set. There is a short introduction, probably along the same lines as what the teacher would say.


While there are workflow benefits for the teacher and the students (no photocopying, no lost sheets) the task itself is not hugely enhanced.

Example 2:  Augmentation

Providing access to the link for the Design Museum chair exhibition and asking students to annotate voice notes on a personal favourite, augments the traditional task of say, looking in a book.

This could also be used as an interesting starter activity; ask the student to pick a chair and be ready to contrast it with one you have on display. You will get a richness and breadth of response impossible if they were using your information sheets.

However, will this ‘democratization’ of information be a challenge to you?



In this case there are again obvious functional benefits; paper saving for example but additionally the richness of the information available will enhance engagement as the focus of the enquiry moves away from being ‘teacher centric or teacher owned’.

Example 3: Modification

The traditional model would see a teacher demonstrating a skill like making a mortise and tenon joint and the students copying it in the master / apprentice relationship of traditional martial arts films.

In this task we challenge the students to research and select a suitable joining technique from a PDF and to record the process of making it using iMovie. This task offers significant functional change and the teacher/student relationship is akin to mentor / hero of Yoda and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

In the modified example the woodworking skills the students are learning are similar but the technology input facilitates rich peer and teacher feedback opportunities. Self-reflection by the students will be absolutely necessary to narrate or annotate the video.

JB007 So we have reached the point where we have a substantially different Year 10 Chair project.


Example 4: Redefinition ???

We have demonstrated how it is possible to significantly alter the tasks that are taking place in a unit of work by using the iTuneU approach. The teacher/student class/home boundaries are blurred and there is likely to be increased engagement accompanied by improved logistics.

However we must ask if this approach has resulted in true redefinition of the current task such that it is completely different in character from the original task from which it was derived? We have to acknowledge that this is NOT the case.

Of course this does not mean that the three stages of substitution, augmentation and modification are not worthwhile. On the contrary, these are not only worthwhile but the change in the nature of the tasks and the scaffolding possible via an iTunesU approach, such as this, manages the risk associated with the introduction of Technology Enhanced Learning.

But it does mean that we have not taken the use of Technology Enhanced Learning to its limits. We are coming to the conclusion that redefinition is unlikely to take place unless the task is a new conception from the outset i.e. it is not derived from a current task. This represents a considerable challenge.

We suggest two approaches to address this.

One has been developed by the Design & Technology Association. This is the Open Starting Points approach. These starting points are available as visual brainstorms, which the teacher can use with the class to explore the context and identify many different sorts of product that could be designed and made in response. These open starting points provide the opportunity to give pupils a voice as to what sort of product they want to design and make and how they might go about the task. The exact nature of the products designed and made will depend on the age and previous experience of the pupils and the resources available in the school. How they think they should tackle the task will depend on their previous exposure to Technology Enhanced Learning.

Taken together these are a strong example of a partnership curriculum in which teachers and pupils are engaged in a process of negotiation. This is likely to develop completely new tasks and give the pupils a voice that will increase their influence on the curriculum and provide ownership, which is likely to increase their motivation. The open starting point brainstorms are available at

Another way is the Challenge Based Learning process promoted by Apple and described here The Challenge Based Learning process begins with a big idea and cascades to the following: an essential question, a challenge, guiding questions, activities, resources, determining and articulating the solution, taking action by implementing the solution, reflection, assessment, and publishing. All these stages are supported with Technology Enhanced Learning.

So in answer to our original question  “Technology Enhanced Learning in Design & Technology – Yes or No?” we say “Yes” and believe that it is possible to do this in relatively easy stages that are manageable with only minimal risk to student learning and the potential for huge gains. Attempting redefinition as a first step would be unwise but as an ultimate goal it is definitely both feasible and desirable.