Courses: Embedded Intelligence in KS3 D&T

rta-ei-courseI’m running a couple of courses on Embedded Intelligence in mid-November, specifically:

  • London, Monday 14th November
  • Manchester, Thursday 17 November

Full details and booking information are on the RTA website, but in summary, the course is based around PICAXE hardware and Blockly for programming.

During the day we’ll explore how to bring embedded intelligence into your curriculum across a range of material areas and make sure you know the basics of PICAXE programming.

The course fee includes PICAXE hardware (and the software is free) so that you can continue to explore embedded intelligence afterwards. I will also be providing post-course support.

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.

The bad news continues – what are we going to do about it?

The downward trend in GCSE numbers for D&T continues. In 2004 95% of young people studied GCSE D&T, now 12 years later its 28%. This can’t be blamed on the EBacc although this certainly hasn’t made it easier to reverse the trend. I’ve been in correspondence with Justine Greening about Michelle Donelan’s letter/petition to have D&T declared an EBacc subject. The initial reply from the civil servant Rachel Nelson (Ministerial and Public Communications Division) seemed to miss the point so this is what I’ve since submitted.

How might the minister increase the number of pupils studying GCSE design & technology? Reference number 2016-0037703

Dear Rachel

Thank you very much for your reply to my letter to Justine Greening. In your reply you give a thorough and correct description of design & technology, its educational benefits and its place in Progress 8 and Attainment 8. The good news for design & technology is that it counts as a high value academic qualification. The bad news for design & technology is that the way this plays out in the choices that schools offer pupils aged 14 is that the subject often finds itself in a single option column competing with subjects such as art, art and design, music, and drama. This minimizes if not rules out the possibility for those pupils studying three sciences of studying design & technology as well. I realize that the structure of option choices for pupils aged 14 is well below the level of detail usually considered by ministers but in this case we have a classic example of a good idea (the English Baccalaureate as a means of achieving social justice) having unintended consequences. That is why I would urge Justine Greening to consider the proposal from Michelle Donelan MP to have design & technology included in the suite of English Baccalaureate subjects. Those pupils taking three sciences would benefit considerably from studying design & technology in that this would enable them to consider the intellectual and practical applications of their science learning.

The news today is that currently only 28% of young people study GCSE design and technology. In 2004 it was 95%. So this is a situation that needs addressing.

I will post this question on my blog so that others know the question has been asked.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Given the positive quotes from James Dyson, Paul McCombie and Prof. Kel Fidler (University of Bath), and Steve Rutherford (Nottingham Trent University) concerning the benefits of the subject cited on the D&T Association website one has to wonder why schools aren’t overwhelmed with young people wanting to study it. So the minister’s response may well be that design & technology should up its game so that it becomes much more attractive and overcomes the obstacles of the options structure. What would we say to her then? As always comments welcome.



Alison Hardy got me thinking

Interesting Blog Post by Alison Hardy at in which Alison questions whether being part of the EBacc will be good for D&T and in fact a betrayal of its true nature.

The letter from Michelle Donelan and 87 MPs to Theresa May and Justine Greening adopts an unashamedly utilitarian tone – D&T essential to bridge the STEM skills gap, see . Alison believes that this may marginalise D&T from inclusion in a general education for ALL students. But that I think is the point of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). It is not a qualification in its own right. It has been established to provide information to parents, and others, about the achievements of pupils in a core set of academic subjects which are shown to enhance the chances of progressing on to further study. Currently to meet EBacc criteria, a pupil must have obtained a grade A* to C in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography (referred to as humanities), and an ancient or modern foreign language. I’d argue that the addition of an academically rigorous creative practical subject, which would include D&T, would make the EBacc a more rounded and appropriate ‘core set of academic subjects’. As to the purpose of D&T I think there are two key elements as follows.

The unique contribution of design and technology education to the education of young people is to develop both technological capability and technological perspective.

Technological capability can be defined as designer maker capability, capturing the essence of technological activity which is intervention in the made and natural worlds.

Technological perspectiv ecan be defined as insight into ‘how technology works’ which informs a constructively critical view of technology, avoids alienation from our technologically based society and enables consideration of how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which pupils wish to live.

I think the above statement makes a good case for D&T being an essential element in the education of ALL pupils to the age of 16.

As always comments welcome.

Augmented Reality | Pokémon GO update

Following writing about AR goes viral | Pokémon GO at the end of last week, I though a brief update might be useful. Especially in relation to the safety of your pupils (or, indeed, children amongst your family and friends).

Since that last post we have had news of people falling off a cliff, a mass stampede in Central Park (NY), teens stuck in a cave, more phone robbery and teens in Florida shot at. All while playing Pokémon GO. There was also the idiot who called 999 to report a ‘stolen Pokemon’.

Though let’s not forget the Health benefits of Pokémon Go.

If you are a member of CAS (it’s free to join), you will find a useful discussion on their forums about how best to provide safeguarding advice to pupils and their families before the summer holidays.

Useful guidance has been provided by the NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre. My own children’s school has emailed the following to all parents (which suggests something of a misconception about the gameplay, but the central advice is sound):

Pokemon Go explained:
Pokemon Go is an app enabling users to create a character and then use Geo Location to find other users that also have their own character. A map is provided which shows nearby Pokemon on it. The basic premise of the game is to walk or ride towards the Pokemon in order to capture it and increase your game status. The game is fast becoming very popular and many people are enjoying playing the game in a safe and responsible way. There are, however, some risk factors that need to be considered, including becoming so absorbed in the game that players lose awareness of the environmental around them and stranger danger.

[Followed by a link to the UK Safer Internet Centre advice.]

Beyond safety issues, the phenomenon that this game has become continues to generate interesting articles about both the game itself and AR generally;

I’ve included the last of these because, clearly, Pokémon GO uses GPS and this is a review of a newly published book about GPS that looks rather good.

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.

AR goes viral | Pokémon GO

Pokémon GOWhen we published our materials on Augmented Reality (AR) a few months ago it was quite hard to point to really compelling examples of AR.

And then, just over a week ago Pokémon Go was released in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Earlier this week it came to Germany and then yesterday it was released in the UK. The media interest in the last 10 days has been intense, hyperbolic even.

In case you have somehow missed all the excitement, Pokémon GO is an AR version of the classic Pokémon game, played on a smart phone, that, as the screenshot shows, inserts Pokémon characters  into the reality seen through a phone’s camera. The basic gameplay is that you walk around your locale using GPS to track and capture Pokémon. Other features are layered on to this foundation, some of which will be noted later in this post.

Now, I have never, ever played Pokémon in any form before yesterday, but my interest in AR led me to download it yesterday morning, as soon as it was available in the UK (I was actually watching out for it to be released on the UK app store – which is unusual behaviour for me…). And I have to report it is rather compelling. The basic game is free with in-app purchases, though it seems likely that sponsored content will appear in due course.

But why the media frenzy? Mainly because Pokémon GO is now the biggest mobile game in U.S. history, not only in the number of downloads but also by daily use – and it appears to be heading that way on this side of the Atlantic; last night the game became unplayable for a while as its servers struggled under the demand – a phenomenon that has repeated every time there is a new country launch. It has driven Nintendo’s value skyward and it’s so popular it looks as though around 22,000 people will turn up to a Pokémon GO ‘crawl’ in San Fransisco this Saturday (tomorrow).

What I think is really interesting about this is that for the first time we will get a sense of the implications of mass use of AR. The game appears to be driving traffic to real-world locations (for better or worse) including churches, police stations, Downing Street and a holocaust museum, raising the question of who owns the virtual space around your home. Some players seem to think no setting inappropriate.  On the other hand, a rather lovely story involves a 3am encounter between a middle-aged white player, two young black players and a police officer – though this is rather offset by the very plausible fears that the game could be a death sentence for a black man.

After just 10 days or so we have reports of a dead body being found by a teenager, planned muggings of players, a paedophile attempting to use the game to meet children, players being injured through inattentiveness to the real world, and risking injury by driving and playing (also in Australia). On the positive side, there’s the accidental exercise and the suggestion that playing brings mental health benefits.

And, of course, there have been the inevitable spoof stories of chaos caused by the game, conspiracy theories and even the accusation that it is a tool of Satan and ISIS. Regarding a more plausible real-world risk, it appears that initial concerns about the privacy settings in the app have now been resolved.

So, we definitely have a compelling example of AR now (there has been the claim it’s not proper AR, but for the purposes of our Disruptive Technologies project it counts). Opinions differ over whether the huge success will be maintained or it will turn out to be a flash in the pan. Either way I think there will be lessons we can learn about the potential for impact and disruptiveness from AR that may help us better predict the consequences of other proposed AR systems.

As far as schools are concerned, I have two thoughts; firstly if you want to introduce the idea of AR to your pupils as a Disruptive Technology then not only might Pokémon GO be a great way in but its success means that many will come to the topic with some understanding of the technology.

Secondly, watch out; the last days of term may well be infiltrated by a new distraction for your pupils – a different kind of disruption. Schools may want to warn their pupils (and carers) of the potential risks (see above) before the Summer holidays and note that the NSPCC is concerned.

Just in case you want more, here are some longer related articles: