Re-Building D&T

re-buildingOur subject is in the doldrums. The KS3 Programme of Study introduced in 2013, coupled with the new GCSE, offers the possibility of modernisation but the challenges to the subject are much more deep-rooted.

We have identified four core challenges:

  • A lack of agreed epistemology
  • Confusion about purpose
  • Uncertainty about the nature of good practice
  • Erroneous stakeholder perceptions

These have contributed over several decades to a situation where less than 30% of young people now study the subject to 16+.

What can be done to restore design & technology to the grand intentions of the 1989 Parkes Report that heralded its introduction into the National Curriculum?

That’s what this post is all about. David and Torben, working with Nick Givens, have written a paper, Re-building Design & Technology, that explores these four challenges and how they might be tackled.

dsp-collageThe paper contains 12 recommendations for the Design & Technology Association to consider, that we believe build on its existing aims and activities.

The emphasis in these recommendations is on the leadership role of the Association; we are not suggesting in any way that the Association can undertake the role of re-building design & technology alone.

All members of the community of practice along with those who support the subject of design & technology and those in positions of influence over the subject need to understand the key roles of Epistemology, Clarity of purpose, Good practice and Informed stakeholder perception in re-building design & technology as a key part of the school curriculum. All need to work with and in support of the Association in this endeavour.

As always we hope this post will stimulate discussion and we look forward to your comments.

Various versions of the paper, including a print-friendly one (with the large blocks of colour removed) and a version as web pages can be found through our Re-Building D&T page.

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?

D&T for the Next Generation

coverThe book Design & Technology for the next generation was published in 2007 through funding from the Technology Enhancement Project with the intention that a copy should be given free of charge to every qualifying design & technology teacher for the following three years. For various reasons this intention was not met. The result was a very limited print run and despite the fact that the book was well received and found its way on many Initial Teacher Training and Masters Courses reading lists it became difficult to obtain and is now virtually unobtainable. To our mind this is a shame as the authors contributing to the book were, and still are, at the forefront of scholarship concerning the purpose, teaching and learning of design & technology education. Hence we are making available free to download PDFs of all the chapters in the book as we believe that they will provide useful reading for all design & technology teachers at a time when the subject is being challenged to modernise particularly in response the introduction of a new single subject GCSE being first taught in September 2017.
The chapters in the book are as follows:
At a time when all creative subjects are being marginalised in the structure of GCSE option choices, it is particularly important that design & technology teachers are able to argue convincingly for the place of their subject in the education for ALL young people up to the age of 16+. Not in terms of a narrow vocational argument centred on the economic necessity of skills required by industry, which will inevitably only apply to a minority of young people, but in terms of an induction to a culturally significant area of human activity that has shaped successive civilisations across history.

MIT has developed some Chooser Charts!

Christopher Polhem

Christopher Polhem

Chooser Charts were a key tool developed by the Nuffield D&T project that David led. Nuffield cannot claim that it was their idea. David Layton pointed out that Christopher Polhem had this idea in Sweden in the 17th Century. He developed a Mechanical Alphabet which was used in teaching at the Laboratorium mechanicum – Sweden´s first school of technology – and later also at the Institute of Technology, the predecessor of the Royal Institute of Technology of Sweden.

The aim of the Nuffield Chooser Charts was to provide young people studying design & technology with easy to use sources of information to help them make design decisions across all the focus areas. The Nuffield materials are now collected together on this website under Resources and contain a wide range of chooser charts for both KS3 and KS4 – in the latter case grouped by material area [electronics products, food technologygraphics, product design, and textiles], reflecting the way GCSE D&T was organised when they were produced. These materials can be freely used and adapted for classroom use but permission needs to be sought for any other purposes.

And we’ve just noticed that MIT’s D-Lab has made available, as high-resolution PDFs, three ‘Learn-IT Boards’ that are, in essence, Chooser Charts of a high graphic quality; one each on Fasteners, Adhesives and Material Selection.

Measuring 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide, Learn-It boards are designed to be hung on a workshop wall.  There, the Learn-Its act as self-serve references for workshop users making prototyping decisions.

Learn-It: Fasteners

Note that, though free, these materials are provided under the Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 Creative Commons License, which essentially means that if you use them you need to attribute MIT, include the same licence and not use them for commercial purposes.

We think it’s especially interesting that these are designed to be hung on the workshop wall to enable good design decisions to be made on the hoof!

The Learn-Its are more detailed than the Chooser Charts. They are self-guiding resources that provide an integrated introduction to basic mechanical design elements; they bridge the gap between superficial how-tos and super-detailed technical guides. They give people the right vocabulary to ask targeted questions in the workshop and online, while outlining detailed tips and explanations of physical phenomena driving how different mechanisms, tools, materials, and fasteners work. People are provided with enough information to critically select the right material, adhesive, or tool for their project.

ChooserIn comparison, the Chooser Charts are really designed to support design decision conversations between pupils and teachers, as opposed to providing all the information necessary to make and enact a design decision. So we see the pupils in schools having their own copies of chooser charts which they can annotate as they discuss possibilities with their teachers. We believe this would be very helpful in evidencing the design decisions the pupils make in the new GCSE contextual challenge. You might consider blowing up the Nuffield Chooser charts to A3  size and laminating them so that the teacher and pupil could annotate together using a white board marker. Of course the pupil would need to photograph the result for evidence of designerly thinking.

Shenzhen: The Silicon Valley of Hardware| WIRED video series

You may have heard of Shenzhen, the hardware capital of China. Famously, this was a small market town and fishing village, just north of Hong Kong, with a population of around 30,000 in 1980, when it was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone. As a result it has mushroomed into a city with an estimated population of around 15 million (cf London, around 9 million), that is rated as the 19th largest world financial centre and has one of the world’s busiest container ports (thank you Wikipedia…). Shenzhen also has a degree of notoriety, representing, to many, the worst of China’s lax attitudes to Intellectual Property (but more of that below).

There are (at least) two reasons why those of us involved in teaching D&T should be interested in what is happening in Shenzhen. Firstly it is now the goto place for anyone wanting to develop product ideas including electronics into actual products; more prosaically if you have PCBs that you want professionally made it is here that you’ll find many companies offering a very high quality manufacturing service at an amazingly cheap price (I have the PCBs for the soldering workshop badges that we use at Manchester MakeFest made by a company there and even with shipping costs this is far cheaper than I can find in the UK).

Secondly, as a result of all of the above, it has become an important hub in maker culture, providing cheap and rapid access to manufacturing and assembly know-how along with access to a vast range of components. Just as importantly there is a kind of intellectual symbiosis with the maker culture of openness and sharing (which is the other side of the coin of lax attitudes to IP…).

Wired has just released a series of (at the time of writing) three films exploring Shenzhen that give a really good insight into the culture of making and manufacturing there, describing well and sympathetically the approach to IP that many take and examining how maker culture resonates with this.

The three films together are less than an hour long and I think will be really useful in helping D&T teachers understand the new directions that hardware development is taking. The films as they stand are probably too long for most use in schools, but I think there are lots of snippets that could be creatively interspersed into lessons.

‘The Silicon Valley of hardware’: part one of WIRED’s Shenzhen documentary

‘The maker movement of technology’: part two of WIRED’s Shenzhen documentary

‘A new breed of intellectual property’: part three of WIRED’s Shenzhen documentary

Humble Book Bundle: “Electronics Presented by Make” [Pay what you want and help charity]

Humble Bundle electronicsThere is an opportunity to buy around £250-worth of Make ebooks focused on electronics for about £10 — it’s a pay what you want deal. More details at Score Awesome Electronics eBooks with Humble Bundle.

This is, needless to say, a fantastic opportunity to get a great set of books, not the least of which is Vol1-3 (the full set) of the Encyclopaedia of Electronic Components. The deal also includes a discount on a subscription to Make magazine.

You’ll need to act reasonably quickly; the deadline is ’10:59am PST on Wednesday, June 29′ – which I think is 18:59 in British Summer Time.

Stuff we like about Robotics

Robotics VSI2We’ve just added a page of Stuff we like about Robotics. We want to provide some background to the Robotics materials we have published for teachers as a part of the Disruptive Technologies project and so we’ve gathered together some books, websites and other materials that we have found useful in developing our thinking about robotics as a disruptive technology.

To help with navigating what turned out to be quite a large collection, the resources are grouped into what we hope are useful areas for teachers:

Start here
Teaching robotics
Influences on robot design
The Personal; how robots and humans shape each other
The Social; the impact of robots on society
Building robots

The aim is that stuff that appears on this page will remain relevant over a reasonable time. However there is also a constant stream of robotics news at the moment, much of which is ephemeral but could be of use in your teaching. Clearly, if you have the time and interest, you could pick up a lot of these yourself by visiting sites like the BBC, Wired or MIT’s Technology Review. More easily (for many) you could also follow David on Twitter as he often shares these kinds of items. In addition to all of that, we’ll occasionally publish on this blog a compendium of robotics news items that we think might be intriguing, surprising or otherwise compelling.

If you have recommendations for resources that should appear on this page, or interesting news items that we might blog about, please do let us know.