Manchester MakeFest 2018

Manchester MakeFest returns this year on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 May at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

The Caller for Makers is open with a deadline of 4th March.

This year, our family festival of making, building, coding, crafting and tinkering has new dates and an exciting programme to celebrate the Year of Engineering.

We need all kinds of people to make MakeFest happen. If you’re a techie, engineer, hacker, hobbyist, crafter, artist, tinker, tailor or even a candlestick maker—we want to hear from you.

Do you run coding activities for families? Are you working on an engineering project that you’d like to try out with the public? Do you create magnificent machines in your shed? Have you got a passion for creating circuits you’d like to share? Or something else that fits in with the MakeFest theme? Whatever you do and whatever level you’re at, we’d love to hear from you.

A Festival Pack is available, this has all the information you need if you have questions about participating. However feel free to also contact me if you want to know more.


Non-Examined Assessment; should we be worried?

I imagine most readers know at least the outline of the recent changes to the place of non-examined assessment (NEA) in Computer Science (CS). In short, Ofqual gave notice to schools in November 2017 that they were initiating a consultation on the place of NEA in CS following reports that ‘answers’ to the NEA were widely available on the web. Schools were advised that the core of the consultation was that the NEA would no longer count towards the final grade. At the time of the announcement many y11s following the course had already finished work on the NEA, many others were in the midst of doing it and the rest were soon to start; I think it’s fair to say that the announcement was met with, to say the least, frustration by both teachers and students.

In January the results of the consultation were announced with Ofqual saying

The responses have not persuaded us there is a better model to that we proposed in the consultation.

That model being, in short, that students taking their GCSE computer science exams in 2018 and 2019 should continue to complete one of the tasks set by their exam board for the qualification, but that the task would not contribute to the final exam grade.

I think this development is worth digging into as it’s not hard to imagine possible knock-on effects for D&T.

In particular, two aspects seem to be worth exploring: the first, and obvious one, is whether NEA more generally is under threat, the second is the implied expansion of the role of the awarding organisations from describing what students will be assessed on in a particular specification to detailing how they should be taught.

Should awarding organisations tell teachers how to teach?

Taking the second of these first, it seems to me to be an unwelcome development that a teacher should be placed in the position of being required to include a (non-assessed) task set by an awarding organisation in their scheme of work. This is what is set out:

Schools must give their students an opportunity to undertake the non-exam assessment tasks set by their exam boards and set 20 hours aside in the timetable to allow them to undertake the task. Exam boards must receive from each school a statement confirming they made such provision. This would make sure that all students have had an opportunity to develop the skills and apply their knowledge and understanding of the subject and go some way to making sure all students have a similar experience, regardless of whether they had yet to start, were part way through, or had completed the task when the changed arrangements were introduced.

Not only that, but, prompted by responses to the consultation suggesting “that if schools were required to confirm they had given all of their students the opportunity to complete the task some would, effectively, fabricate any such a statement“, Ofqual is now requiring awarding organisations

to divert the resources they would otherwise have put into moderating teachers’ marking to ensuring all students (are) given the required opportunities to compete (sic) the task. […] a school or college that was found to have made a false statement about the opportunities would be investigated by the relevant exam board under its malpractice procedures.

This seems extraordinary to me. Do we really want the awarding organisations deciding for teachers how they should organise elements of their teaching? With a malpractice threat if they fail to do so?

It looks very much like the thin end of a potentially very thick wedge. And if you think that’s paranoid then note that the Ofqual document points out

There are other GCSE subjects for which schools are required to make a statement confirming students have been given an opportunity to undertake an essential element of the qualification, such as in GCSE geography.

So, it’s actually a wedge with a thin end in Geography that’s now being hammered further into the curriculum.

Responses from teachers of CS seem to have ranged from ‘makes no difference to me because of course I would include a task like this – in fact I include lots of such tasks as a core part of my teaching’, to ‘my kids hated the task and found it very demotivating; I have other ways to teach the material that work better in my setting’. And that, of course, is the point; teachers should be free to use their professional judgement to decide how best to prepare their particular students, in their particular setting, for a GCSE.

Is there a general threat to NEA?

Turning to the possible threat to coursework, it’s worth making clear that this change of rules was, ostensibly, prompted by growing evidence of malpractice

During autumn 2017, we saw evidence that the rules for the GCSE (9 to 1) computer science non-exam assessment tasks were being broken. The tasks had been released by the exam boards on 1 September 2017, for completion by students taking their exams in summer 2018. The tasks should not have been discussed outside of the controlled conditions under which they were completed. However, the tasks, which students had to complete by March 2018, quickly appeared, in full or part, on-line and were widely discussed, advice offered and solutions developed. The speed with which the tasks appeared on-line and the number of times the discussions and solutions were viewed threatened the integrity of this aspect of the qualification.

One can understand Ofqual’s concern. However, two other factors appear to have been in play and these have not been as widely discussed. The first of these is that, because CS counts as a science in the government’s accountability measures

Our decision, taken in 2014, to allow non- exam assessment in the qualification was finely balanced.

A cynic might wonder if they were looking for an excuse to remove the NEA.

The second is that Ofqual

heard from stakeholders that some teachers were finding the non-exam assessments difficult to manage (they were not permitted to discuss the tasks with colleagues outside of their own centre, for example).

In fact, the consultation quotes the Royal Society report After the reboot: computing education in UK schools in saying

Finally, many teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland raised the new Non Examined Assessment arrangements for GCSE computer science qualifications as a cause for concern. These teachers felt that the new rules on GCSE Non-Examined Assessment (NEA) are onerous, and consume a disproportionate amount of teacher time and teaching opportunities in the computer science GCSE

I think one has to take these teachers’ views at face value. If the NEA had been kept one might have had sympathy while arguing that the specification is what it is, and teachers have little choice but to work with it – perhaps while lobbying for considered change in the future. But it seems extraordinary to use this as argument to support eliminating the NEA while keeping exactly the same (‘onerous’ but non-assessed) task in place!

More broadly, we know that when the GCSEs were revised the initial position of the government was that coursework was to be removed from all qualifications. It seemed that in an argument between validity and reliability in assessment the reliability of exams was being set against the validity, for many aspects of many subjects, of coursework. One suspects that a strong driver for this is that GCSEs are now as much about measuring schools’ performance as that of pupils; the quote above from Ofqual about the place of CS as a ‘science’ subject supports this view.

So, it was seen as a victory when some subjects fought for and regained NEA. Though one senior examiner pointed out to me that the fact that Art and Design had gained 100% coursework could simply be seen as a measure of the (low) value placed on the subject by ministers at the time. By extension, D&T’s 50% NEA might also be seen as a measure of the subjects slightly higher low worth.

(Just to be clear, I am definitely not arguing that the way to raise the profile of D&T in ministers’ eyes is to relinquish coursework. We’ve made the case for Re-building D&T that developing both technological capability and technological perspective are at the heart of the subject – and you can’t measure all the dimensions of capability through a written exam.)

HMCI Amanda Spielman made some comments about science practical work in a speech to the ASE in January that may be relevant.

Where we still have a live and worthwhile debate is on the role of practical science in the curriculum. This point is demonstrated in John Holman’s Gatsby report on ‘Good practical science’, which I believe is being discussed a great deal at this conference. His report identifies 5 purposes of practical science: to teach the principles of scientific enquiry, improve understanding of theory, to teach practical skills, to motivate and engage students and to develop teamwork skills. His preliminary survey finds that teachers rate the use of practical science for teaching scientific enquiry and practical skills as the least important of those 5. They rate motivation as the most important.

But we should be uncomfortable with the idea of practical science being mainly about motivation. Yes, children should find experiments fun and motivating, but making sure children finish practical tasks having learned something or having consolidated what they have just been taught, is most important. And we know that there are limits to the extent to which skills such as teamwork and enquiry can be developed in isolation.

More generally I think we are still learning what can and can’t be achieved through practical science work, and how this varies at different ages. I am watching this space with great interest. But we do know that scientific understanding is cumulative, and so children need knowledge and understanding before they can create and test hypotheses. Good schools understand this.

It’s hard not to read in between the lines that there is some suspicion at high levels in the education system of the educational value of practical work. Especially as the speech gives no weight to the other, more knowledge-focussed, purposes for practical work. If so, it’s not hard to see how this might reveal itself in suspicion of the value of assessing aspects of practical work in NEAs.

As one would expect, Holman’s report is far subtler than the above suggests and the quoted finding was based on the views of expert witnesses (not teachers) outside England. So, the report certainly doesn’t claim that science teachers in England do in fact value the motivational purpose of practical science more highly than other purposes.

Implications for D&T NEA

It is absolutely clear that keeping an NEA element of assessment in D&T is fundamental to reflecting the nature of the subject (developing technological capability and perspective); if an aim of our subject is developing designer-maker capability then that needs to be assessed and the only valid way to assess it is through some form of NEA. In my view, the current approach of using a Contextual Challenge offers real strengths here. Although the challenge is set by the awarding organisations the context has to be explored by candidates to identify an issue/problem that they consider significant and worthy of responding to via designing and making. This is a far cry from responding to a design brief set by an awarding organisation. It gives both choice of the activity and ownership of the activity to the candidate and this should enable young people to develop a sense of designerly responsibility in the way they respond, as previously explored by David.

If the NEA was removed it would be inevitable that what is taught would evolve to match the demands of the written exam (however good the intentions of teachers, in the end accountability is king), and that would mean, at the very least, a diminished focus on practical capability. It would rapidly become a different subject, even if the name stuck.

The cynic in me is genuinely concerned that there is pressure ‘from above’ to minimise NEA. If so, we can assume that any evidence of malpractice will be seized on enthusiastically as an excuse to eliminate NEA – as we have just seen happen to CS; it’s not clear to me that, in the case of CS, any real effort was put into looking for ways to reduce malpractice, which would have been the case if the NEA was highly valued.

I do think that a Contextual Challenge will be much harder to game than the CS NEA was; while it’s not hard to envisage that many students’ solutions to a programming challenge in CS could look very similar (in fact it might be hard for them not to look similar), it’s very hard to imagine a similar situation emerging in response to a contextual challenge.

So, to avoid the possibility of losing our NEA, with its particular framing as a Contextual Challenge, as a community of practice we need:

  • To be on the ball about identifying attempts to game the Contextual Challenges.
  • To ensure that, if (or when – our young people are marvellously inventive when they need to be…) we do find evidence of cheating of this kind, we are very open about it and proactive in identifying solutions before an unwanted solution is imposed.
  • To make it the normal expectation that the artefacts that emerge in response to a Contextual Challenge will vary widely as pupils answer in their own ways the design questions that arise. Assuming that children in KS3 are also presented with open design challenges as a part of their learning journey towards GCSE, then we should have a similar expectation of diversity in outcomes.
  • To make sure that all D&T teachers are properly prepared to help pupils work in this newly open approach; this would be a very useful focus of support from the awarding bodies.

As ever comments are welcome.


Build, Use, Damage, Mend and Adapt – an approach to learning through and about drones

A guest post by Ed Charlwood

What follows describes the work I’ve been doing in school that has led to me to set up a new Drones in Schools Google+ community for teachers.

A convergence of influences

As with much curriculum development, serendipity did its job at the outset of this endeavour, bringing together the opportunities offered by (1) the new GCSE and A Level specifications and their broader content requirements, (2) a growing dissatisfaction with a certain high-profile external “design / engineering” competition that really requires very little design and (3) the discovery of a very interesting little kit. Firstly, the long-awaited publication of the new GCSE and A Level specifications really was a wake up call that we could not continue to plough the same RM / Product Design furrow at either qualification level. I felt it important to embrace the specification in its entirety and that meant that at Latymer we would have to teach areas that were less familiar i.e. Systems and Control and Textiles. It also meant that we could fully embrace previously fringe areas that we had been pushing at for a few years but had been confined by old assessment criteria, namely the use of CAD, CAM and the circular economy. Secondly, I have seen our students be equally engaged and frustrated with external engineering competitions, they promised a glimpse into the competitive world of high level engineering but actually offered little real decision making, restrictive and difficult manufacturing processes and actually required a lot of luck and frivolous administration. I won’t name names. Lastly I came across a $99 / £78 kit from Flexbot, offering a 3D printable drone and the promise of an open source kit. A quick PayPal purchase later and I was the proud owner of a Flexbot Quadcopter (4 rotors), cleverly packaged, with a comprehensive and appropriate information booklet and a product that worked pretty much straight out for the box and could fly via an iPhone app. Bingo.

Drones are a great ‘hook’ for learning

Drones are popular in the media, comprehensible to most people and on a steep curve of becoming demonstrably better and cheaper at the same time. Currently they have the elusive “engagement factor” and this provides a ‘hook’ making them intrinsically attractive to students. Such a hook is, in my experience, vital. It is important to note that we are not coding experts, nor are we overly interested in programming. But we are interested in using electronics to do stuff. And it is here that the Flexbot Quadcopter meets our teaching intentions.

Our approach

Under the guidance of my colleague Nick Creak we handed the kit over to our students. They assembled the drone without difficulty. Then they had a play, crashed it and naturally broke it. They took the kit apart and made some key measurements, download CAD files from the Flexbot Wiki (SketchUp) and Thingiverse (.stl) and printed a replacement for the part for the one they broke. They then began to explore the files and started to design their own drone. Initially they did this by pretty much by simplifying and copying the existing design, a useful process in its own right to develop CAD techniques and collaborative skills.

A 3D printed Flexbot part

We then printed their chassis designs and used the slicing software to investigate various manufacturing options:

  • How long would the print take if it was “ultimate” or “low” quality?
  • What would happen if it had a low / medium / dense fill?
  • What were the implications of the design being aligned differently?

On average a “normal quality” high density print would take 2 hours. The booklet provided by Flexbot also has some interesting text comparing the economics of 3D printed manufacturing vs mass production techniques like injection moulding.

Students then could begin to design “iteratively” – a new key concept in the OCR interpretation of the new specifications.

“Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analysing, and refining a product or process. Based on the results of testing the most recent iteration of a design, changes and refinements are made.”

We also offered a number of design challenges: design a modular drone, alter your design to use as little filament as possible (make it cheap!) or to print as quickly as possible, design your drone to use a standard component – in our case this was a Lego axle.

Flexbot parts

The Flexbot circuit is robust enough to be shared between students and the batteries, propellers and motors are cheap enough to buy in bulk. If you do not have a 3D printer, jobs can be specified, costed and outsourced to a 3D print hub. The simulator (which is available once you have started the process of uploading parts for hub to print) shows it would cost approximately £6 for a basic chassis made from PLA by Fused Deposition Modelling. Some hubs even offer 25% student discount and most do almost next day delivery.

We additionally posed a number of extensions questions to our students, each eliciting a different design outcome: What is the effect of changing the alignment of the rotors? How big/small can the drone be? How much weight can it pick up?


Design Decisions Pentagon

David Barlex has produced a design decision pentagon to describe the decisions that students might make when they are designing and making. So I was intrigued to use this to explore the decisions that our students were making.

Clearly they weren’t making any big conceptual decisions – the sort of product had already been decided – a quadcopter drone. The technical decisions in terms of how it would work had also been decided – four electric motors linked to flexbot circuit, controlled by the Bingo app. But there were lots of possibilities in the constructional decision-making.

Not 90°!

One student changed the alignment of the motors so that they were no longer at 90o to one another which made the drone faster but harder to control. And I suppose you could argue that this constructional change did in fact change the way the drone worked. A key feature of the pentagon is that the design decisions featured at each of the vertices aren’t independent of one another hence the lines between the vertices.

Interference fit

Another student responded to the modular challenge producing a design with four separate arms held tightly by an interference fit to the central node, taking advantage of the high degree of dimensional accuracy of additive manufacture. This required investigation and was in itself was a valuable learning experience.

Clearly it’s possible to set particular design challenges around constructional decisions e.g. making it more crash worthy.

Aesthetic decisions could also be made. Indeed changing the alignment of the motors could be seen as an aesthetic as well as a constructional decision. Devising light-weight covers that can be 3D printed or perhaps produced from nets that have been laser cut from thin sheet plastic might give the drone different ‘personalities’ and this may be seen as a marketing decision, changing the appearance to have appeal to different users. Marketing decisions can also be made with regard to how the drone gets to market – via a kit in a shop or on line, or via digital files for home or hub manufacture in collaboration with a circuit board/electrical motor supplier, related to this, deciding whether the product is open source or not is also a marketing decision. And just who the drone is for will make a big difference to what it might look like and additional features. And taking a step back how will the design decisions overall be affected by requiring drones to be part of a circular economy?

There is, of course, a “purer” engineering challenge, to design and make racing drones, where there are already a number of competitions with related rules and constraints.

The next area for us to consider is that of the consequences of drone technology, and its close cousin the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) many of which have some more sinister applications; bombing, surveillance and smuggling as a counterbalance to the positive aspects; photography, delivery, surveying etc… each is a rich seam for discussion as well as the wider issues of automation, disruptive technologies generally or government regulation and control.

Far from this being a proprietary endeavour I want this to be a collaborative, open source one, so I invite you to join the Drones in Schools Google+ community to share your experiences, ideas and resources or add your comments to this post.

Ed Charlwood headshotEd Charlwood

Head of Design & Director of Digital Learning at Latymer Upper School, London

I am a passionate advocate of Design education who believes in the power of learning through analysis, designing and making. I am an Apple Distinguished Educator (class of 2013), a Google Certified Teacher (class of 2015) and the DATA Outstanding Newcomer to Design and Technology Award winner (2008), a particular focus of my work is to exemplify the notion that innovative and appropriate use of technology can redefine the traditional teacher-learner relationship and transform educational designing and making experiences. My vision is to inspire and empower students to make the things they imagine.

Re-Building D&T v2

Re-Building Design & Technology v2 is now available here. It has been informed by the responses we have had to the first version. We have taken many of these responses into account in rewriting the original eight sections and have introduced a completely new section Re-building – necessary but not sufficient.

Prior to publishing v2 of this document we sought the support of the D&T Association. To this end, we had a very productive meeting with Julie Nugent, the new CEO of the D&T Association and Andy Mitchell, the deputy CEO, at which they welcomed v2 of the Re-building paper and looked forward to working with stakeholders in responding to the recommendations. However we want to reiterate here what the paper says:

Our recommendations all carry implied costs, in some cases relatively modest and in others significant. These costs are beyond the current budget of the Association and it is really important that the whole D&T community works with the Association to help the realisation of these recommendations with both practical and financial support.

If you would like to discuss the provision of either practical or financial support with the D&T Association, you can contact them via their website; we suggest that you mention the Re-Building D&T document and it may be helpful to note that your message is for the attention of Julie Nugent, CEO.

In addition we look forward to receiving any comments you have on v2 and would welcome indications of how you might be using v2 of the document in your school, your initial teacher training or in the provision of CPD.

As ever, you can comment on this post or contact us directly.

Big Ideas for D&T

When we published the Re-Building Design & Technology Working Paper, one of the core things we suggested was that the D&T community could agree on some Big Ideas that should underpin learning within D&T.

We didn’t think these Big Ideas were particularly radical; they already mostly appear in one form or another in the current KS3 Orders for D&T as well as in the new D&T GCSEs.

We outlined some of the responses to the Re-Building paper in an earlier post, and, as we said there, some correspondents disagreed with the idea of Big Ideas and others felt they’d like to hear more detail on how these Big Ideas had been developed, so that they could understand our argument better.

We agree that this would be helpful and we hope that our second Working paper,  Big Ideas for Design & Technology, serves the purpose of explaining where the Bg Ideas we are advocating have come from.

As ever, we hope this paper will stimulate discussion and we look forward to your comments.

Maker Assembly Manchester | 12th November

Maker AssemblyMaker Assembly Manchester is just a couple of weeks away; If you’re interested in making contacts within the Manchester maker community – or simply finding out more about making in and around Manchester, then this is definitely for you.

In particular, if you are interested in how makers and schools can work together – please come along and join the conversation.

Further information

Maker Assembly – produced in association with V&A Digital Programmes and Lighthouse – is a critical gathering about maker cultures, which launched a year ago at the V&A.

makerassembly_1_b48283887c11a8faa67e341c71a1af0cSessions have taken place in Belfast, Sheffield and coming up next is Maker Assembly Manchester, which will take place Saturday, 12th November at MadLab, in conjunction with the Crafts Council’s Make:Shift innovation conference.

The event will explore international maker cultures and what the UK can learn from them; the relationship between making and manufacturing in the UK and the role of makerspaces within the sector; as well as making and humanitarian relief, discussing the role making can play within responses to humanitarian challenges. We have some great speakers joining us, including; Justyna SwatFelipe FonsecaAdrian McEwen, and Paul Sohi.


The Incomplete and Crowdsourced History of UK Maker Culture. 
Maker Assembly Sheffield 31 August 2016. Photo by Dan Sumption

Maker Assembly brings people together to have critical conversations about cultures of making – their meanings, politics, histories and futures. We encourage everyone to participate by combining short talks with contributions from the attendees. The event is peer-to-peer, informal and conversational.

What do we mean by “making”?

We’re talking about people who craft, design, manufacture, tinker with, engineer, fabricate, and repair physical things. Art, craft, electronics, textiles, products, robots. Hi-tech and low-tech, amateur and professional, young and old, with digital tools or by hand. Historical perspectives, what’s happening here and now, and how things might change in the future.

Tickets for Maker Assembly Manchester can be booked here:

Maker Assembly is supported by the Comino Foundation.

Humble Bundle deal on Make: titles

humble-bundle-10-16Humble Bundle is currently offering a wide range of books from the Make: catalogue. At the moment over $300 worth of books is on offer.

The offer expires in 7 days.

The deal is you pay what you want, over a very low limit, some of the money goes to charity, some to Make: and some to Humble Bundle; you can choose these ratios.

What you get is DRM-free e-versions of the books in pdf, epub (Apple iBook) and mobi (Amazon Kindle) versions.

There is a number of (IMHO…) highly recommendable books in the offer. What more can I say?