Wired – essential reading for D&T Departments

I’ve been a fan of Wired for some years now. It strikes me that all D&T teachers need to keep up to date with new and emerging ‘tech’ as part of on going regular professional development and a monthly meeting where a department ‘flicks through’ the latest issue of Wired seems a useful, painless and interesting way of doing this. The results should be a listing of items that will intrigue students and help keep the department ‘modern’. It’s a straight forward matter to use the items for either a hard copy display – simply tear out relevant pages and mount in the department foyer, or an electronic display – simply photograph relevant pages and produce a PowerPoint display for the VLE. Of course if you have a bit more time you can extract various items and provide a commentary. If it’s on the VLE then it can feature as the basis for homework exercises. So what did the November 2015 edition yield?

Page 21 – the use of 96 million small black plastic balls on the Los Angeles Reservoir to halt the growth of algae and stop evaporation.

Page 22 – fascinating application of biomimicry in the use of bacteria to grow calcium carbonate shells which are infused into sand to produce building bricks – no heating in a kiln required and the resulting bricks might be able to absorb pollution or glow in the dark or change colour when wet. Check out www.biomason.com

Page 27 – Open Bionics produces low cost individualized 3D printed prosthetic hands, from sac to fitting in less than a week. Check out www.openbionics.com

Page 39 – bio inspired drones that will be able to switch between swimming, walking and flying – just like many birds. Check out www.imperial.ac.uk/aerialrobotics

Page 53 – the Jellyfish Barge which uses solar energy to grow crops hydroponically. Check out www.pnat.net

Page 55/6 – neat overview of carbon capture storage

Page 78 – the impact of robotics on employment, interesting piece by Martin Ford author of The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the threat of Mass Unemployment

Page 206/7 – Overview guide on making your own drone

Page 133 – the argument for self driving vehicles being safer than those driven by humans

That’s what tickled my fancy but your department might well find other features more to your taste. It’s up to you.

Consultation for new D&T GCSE

The consultation for GCSE D&T for first teaching in September 2017 is now open. You can find the new content from the DfE and the consultation document here. You can find the Ofqual consultation document here. The deadline for both responses is 26th August 2015 5.00 pm. So there is some time to consider your response.

Torben and David will be blogging their thoughts in the not too distant future.

Embedding STEM in the curriculum for ALL secondary school students

The Connecting STEM Teachers celebration event today (9 July) featured excellent presentations from teachers and students showing just what ‘blended’ STEM can achieve. The benefits of the interaction between science, mathematics and design & technology were clear for all to see. But, and it’s a big but, nearly all the examples were concerned with extra-curricular activities. In no way do I want to rain on Dominic Nolan’s parade here, his Connecting STEM Teachers Project is absolutely top notch but to impact on large numbers of students STEM needs to operate in the mainstream curriculum. Easier said than done some say but there are ways to achieve this and enhance attainment across the piece without disrupting the timetable. This is explained at length in Teaching STEM in the Secondary School Helping Teachers meet the challenge. What emerged at the celebration event was the impact of the EBacc on the KS4 option structure. It’s here that we need to focus our attention so that the offering to students encourages and enables those who are taking three sciences to also take design & technology. Option choice structures that facilitate this need to be developed and disseminated so that STEM in the main stream can become a reality rather than a wish. As always comments welcome.

Where does D&T fit into Nick Gibb’s Social Justice Case for an Academic Curriculum?

At the beginning of May I reported via Twitter that Nick Gibb was on record as saying “”Art and music and D&T (design and technology) are terribly important, core academic subjects in our schools”. Yet now it is clear that there are rising concerns about the Minister’s views on the importance of EBacc subjects and the D&T community is feeling assailed by decisions in schools that privilege such subjects over the worth of D&T. What lies behind this apparent dichotomy? Nick Gibb has made an interesting case for an academic curriculum in terms of social justice. In this does he renege on his view about the importance of D&T? These are some of the points he makes with brief comments from me as to their relevance to D&T in italics.

He supports R A Butler’s rebuff of the criticism that “if everyone is educated who will do the work?” Butler retorted “Education itself will oil the wheels of industry and will bring a new efficiency, the fruit of modern knowledge, to aid the ancient skill of farm and field”. He attacks a culture of low expectations (with regard to learning academic subjects in particular), suggesting that we should never lower our expectations because too many young people are failing to reach them. Rather, we must raise standards by supporting teachers and turning around schools which are struggling. There’s a rub here. Is D&T an academic subject? In the post “But it is as hard as physics” I argue that there are aspects of D&T that make significant intellectual as well as practical demands but I realize that there are many who see the subject as essentially practical which to my mind does little to help our cause. Unless the subject can be seen as worthwhile from the perspective of its inherent ‘academic’ demand it will always be seen as less significant than those subjects that parade this virtue. I’ve argued the case for a D&T curriculum based on demanding BIG Ideas here and here. So I stand firmly in the camp that requires the subject to reposition itself with regard to academic worth. If we can do this then we can begin to demand support in achieving this goal.

He berates Ken Robinson for suggesting schools should reduce the emphasis on core academic subjects acknowledging that while he is correct to recognise the value of flexibility and creativity to success in life and the labour market he is wrong to suggest that the best way to foster these attributes is to reduce the emphasis on core academic subjects. Note Robinson has never been a friend to D&T; his Creativity and Culture report paid little if any heed to our subjects potential.

And he rebukes those who suggest that a core academic curriculum is academic elitism. In this he argues strongly against the position of Paulo Freire the Brazilian educationalist with a commitment to the education of the poor who developed the idea of critical pedagogy. Here I must admit to being torn. I am a great admirer of the work of Freire especially as a means to get young people to question the status quo and challenge prevailing power structures that disadvantage them in the short if not medium and long terms. However I do not agree with the bizarre notion that once you support critical pedagogy you are automatically required to dismiss the importance of subject knowledge. Quite the reverse is true. The only criticism of worth is one that is informed. And it is here surely that D&T can have the best of both worlds. Through our subject young people develop ‘eyes on the technological world’ and can gain insight into ‘how technology works’ such that they develop a constructively critical view of technology, do not become alienated from the technologically-based society in which they live, and are able to consider how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which they wish to live. Developing such insight is not a trivial task, either for the students or their teachers.

Some in the D&T community argue that it is the EBacc that is at the root of our woes yet Gibb argues for a broad curriculum as follows: The EBacc is a specific, limited measure consisting of only 5 subject areas and up to 8 GCSEs. Whilst this means that there are several valuable subjects which are not included, it also means that there is time for most pupils to study other subjects in addition to the EBacc, including vocational and technical disciplines which are also vital to future economic growth. The vast majority of pupils will rightly continue to take the opportunity to study further academic GCSEs or high value, approved vocational qualifications at KS4 alongside EBacc subjects.

If we can reposition D&T as an opportunity for further academic GCSE study then there is definitely a place for our subject in the 8 GCSEs but there is a problem in attracting the most able students to our subject. And I definitely do want to attract the most able as D&T provides them with challenge worthy of their attention. Once a student has chosen three sciences there is likely to be only one ‘option column’ available from which to choose a GCSE subject. The others have already been taken by English. Mathematics, history or geography, and a MFL. This forces all the so-called ‘creative’ subjects into competition with one another. So the issue for me is in the nature of option choice structures that enables as many pupils as possible, especially the academically able, to study the creative subjects. This is a level of detail that is usually beneath ministerial concern. And that is a very important aspect of the problem we face. The Minister is unlikely to be aware of the ‘unintended consequences’ for our, and others’, subjects of his position on achieving social justice for all young people through an academic curriculum.

It is of course important to maintain the learning demands of D&T on a broad front – practical, intellectual and creative. This latter aspect is particularly important and we should be clear that this in no way detracts from the intellectual demands of the subject (especially if we position our subject within the STEM agenda). In his fascinating book Curious Ian Leslie make a strong case for the importance of academic knowledge in supporting creativity. “Without knowledge, including factual knowledge, a child is like a sculptor with no clay to work with – she is creative, but only in theory.” So the key question is “Where does Nick Gibb stand on enabling pupils, especially academically able pupils, to study design & technology?” Will his position on academic learning as a vehicle for social justice inadvertently betray D&T?

The easiest way is also the most direct – just ask him. I shall be writing to my MP (Justine Greening) with a request that she directs this question to Nick Gibb on my behalf. I have every expectation that Justine will do this. I urge you to do the same with your MP. The key point to make I think is to help the Minister see the importance of school’s option structures and how this might undermine access to some very important subjects including D&T.

As always comments on the post are welcome

PS The problem created by pupils taking 3 sciences skewing curriculum balance is not new. In the 1980’s there was a move to address this problem by introducing a double science qualification, as a opposed to a triple science qualification. In the early 2000’s the Nuffield Foundation’s 21st Century Science course adopted a similar approach with a core science course for all with the possibility of students taking one of two additional qualifications – an applied science course or an academic science course. This approach was confounded by the government’s insistence on the availability of a triple GCSE in science.

Understanding materials in D&T

A flurry of tweets asking what pupils should learn about materials in D&T has prompted this blog. To my mind the understanding of materials has a central place in D&T. We live, literally as reminded by Madonna, in a material world. So to understand and perhaps take part in conceiving and constructing such a world what might pupils need to know? Can we identify a set of ‘BIG’ ideas that underpin pupil understanding of materials? I believe we can. The first BIG idea is that of ‘property’ – the features of a material or substance that distinguish it from other materials and substances and which define the way that material behaves. The second BIG idea as far a D&T is concerned is that we can divide the properties of a particular material into two main categories: the intrinsic properties of that material and the working properties of that material. The former are concerned with what that material is like and the latter with how we can apply tools and processes to change the form of a piece of that material. The intrinsic properties can be further divided in categories such as mechanical, electrical, optical, thermal, chemical and a broad set of aesthetic qualities. These properties can be applied to all and any materials but sometimes the form of the material can affect the way the properties play out. In the case of textiles the behaviour of a particular piece of fabric will depend on the intrinsic properties of the material, the tightness with which the fibers have been spun into a yarn and the looseness or tightness of the weave used to produce the fabric from the yarn. So this is quite tricky territory. In D&T we would want pupils to chose the material they think is most appropriate for the design they are envisaging. Clearly they will need to take into account the intrinsic properties of possible materials and also consider whether they themselves have the necessary skill, tools and equipment to process the material into the required form. Overlaid on this of course will be the cost or purchasing the material – affordability is important. But the choice requires further considerations. Where does the material come from, by what means is it obtained and what is the carbon footprint of this acquisition? If the material is non-renewable it will be important to consider the longevity of the material. How long will it be available for if it is used up and not recycled or up-cycled? Whilst such considerations may be beyond the scope of pupils’ personal material choice in school they should feature highly in any critique pupils make of the choices made by professional designers and engineers. So the third BIG idea is that in choosing a material, designers and engineers have to make a judgment as to which is the most appropriate using criteria concerned with properties, cost, source, footprint and longevity and that often there has to be trade offs between these sets of criteria. So, for example, I might choose material A as opposed to that material B because although A is less strong (so I have to make the part thicker) it is much easier to recycle. Often designers and engineers (and pupils) use precedent to simplify this decision making process. In a similar design this material worked well so I’ll use that too. Whilst this yields a quick and apparently successful result as the future unfolds the impact and significance of source, footprint and longevity on the decision may well change and precedent might not be the best way of approaching the decision. And as the future unfolds nanotechnology will become ever more important in developing materials with particular and unusual properties. The properties of such materials will depend not so much on the material used but on the nanostructure by which that material is built. This is heady stuff which runs counter to our teaching of the first and second BIG ideas and is probably best left until pupils are in Key Stage 4. So if the above represents the BIG ideas about materials we want to teach pupils in D&T the question is “What’s a good way to do this across KS3 and KS4?” How can we use teaching about these BIG ideas to develop both pupils’ technological capability as designers and makers in their own right AND their technological perspective through which they can take a position on the way society uses the materials at its disposal. I’ll leave the last word to Mark Miodownik, Director of the Institute of Making at University College London

Making is not just an economic activity, it is the equal of literature, performance or mathematics as a form of human expression. By eschewing material knowledge we cease to understand the world around us.

But it is as hard as physics!

The recent post from John Newbigin bemoans the fate of so called ‘creative subjects’ within the government’s view of what constitutes the ‘hard subjects’ young people need for a ‘good start’. John has little time for this position arguing that it is what the creative subjects offer that industry really needs. I have some sympathy with this but I think it is a mistake to see the creative subjects, particularly design & technology, as not ‘hard’ or as I prefer to say ‘academically demanding’ To make this point Torben and I wrote a briefing paper for Nick Gibb with the title D&T GCSE Briefing for Minister. In this we make the case that although different from physics it is certainly as hard in its own way and in no sense intellectually inferior. So whilst I support John’s position on the importance of the creative subjects I think it is very important that in doing so we don’t inadvertently ‘dumb them down’.

Design without make hits the spot!

The latest Osiris D&T professional development concerns Assessing without levels. Part of the day involves considering ways to teach D&T: Making without designing, Designing without making, Designing and Making and Exploring technology and society. There was some initial skepticism with regard to Designing without making. “Pupils come to D&T to make; if they’re not making they’re disappointed and become disaffected.” I quoted independent evaluation that disagreed and presented examples of pupils’ work that showed engagement and creativity. But I could tell there were still some doubters. Imagine how pleased I was to receive this email from Martin McKenna of Paignton Academy Got in this morning at 7 am, had year 9 periods 1 and 2, looked at my lesson plan and decided to throw it away…and do a Design without Making task, by 7.30 still not sure, but by 8am had nailed it! Found following clips about transport https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9b0J29OzAU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv8_W2PA0rQ&spfreload=1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYOmZlTjsQ0  Knocked out this worksheet  Fired them all up to design with completely open imagination…anything is possible by the time they retire When I was a kid I remember sitting in my dads new car and imagined that one day we would be able to control the radio without taking hands of the steering wheel….wouldn’t that be amazing! Students produced some fascinating ideas  It was a very useful lesson, and has put me on a new journey, a journey my students should have been on since year 7 I think. Still have no idea of model for assessment yet, but have some ideas…need to chat to SLT! The key of course is that Martin pre-empted the disappointment of not making by telling the pupils they would not be making in this particular lesson AND engaging them with the creative potential of designing ‘on its own’. This approach was developed through the Young Foresight initiative and you can find the project materials here including teacher guidance. The ideas produced by Martin’s pupils clearly indicate that they were thinking hard about transport ‘beyond the wheel’. The task was no soft option, it was academically challenging and they rose to the challenge. As you may imagine Martin’s response and that of his pupils made my day. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about his designing without making journey and how SLT support its assessment.