Welcome to my first independent blog having published over 100 on the TES in recent years. Sadly, just a recycled blog illustration with this but here we go…
I have seen some interesting discussions generated recently on the subject of what constitute ‘worthwhile’, relevant or ‘solid’ projects for Design and Technology at KS3/KS4. This has been something of a holy grail for me over the last few years and something I have given a great deal of time and consideration. The new GCSE specification, deep dives by Ofsted and numerous other initiatives and ideas have led many, including myself, to look at the long term planning of the subject and what we should deliver in the key stages before GCSE.
KS3 should be a substantial experience for the students regardless of what they choose to study at GCSE. AS educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that every student we teach gets a ‘solid’ grounding in aspects of design and technology as they are the generation that will create or consume products and have the potential to change the world as we know it….for better or worse. At the same time, we need to prepare them well for examination level should they make that choice. Admittedly its a fine balancing act, especially with the limitations imposed on us but we really need to do our best to meet these demands.
Clocks, bird houses (grits teeth there), pencil holders, desk tidy’s (guilty as charged)…hell, even blockbots all have their place as vehicles for delivering skills to young minds. The problem is when these become the ‘destination’ rather than the vehicle for getting there.
The other problem is that of ‘safety’ and reassurance (for the teacher) where products are still in the curriculum because they are products….and ‘mums like them’, ‘SLT take pictures’, ‘look good on the shelf’ or whatever. Take the clock project as an example, one which is still prevalent in schools today even at KS4. If there isn’t a specific skill being covered (well) then what it the problem they are solving? What process of design and enlightenment is being undertaken? where is the inspiration, the purpose, the learning? The problem of telling the time is already solved by the provision of a clock mechanism…are you simply dressing it up like a doll in parts you have cut out to keep kids occupied in lesson time? I have seen many designs where the outcome, no matter how ‘pretty’ has completely disregarded the original purpose and the time can hardly be read from it!
I have my own issues with the well crafted products often seen in open evenings and displays (particularly from prestigious independents) that are simply pointless or unnecessary designs that are ‘exclusive’ for the wrong reasons (we have a surplus of English Oak in the store room, daddy has a metal fabrication facility we can access, it’s in the style of Jonny Ives because I own lots of Apple products/ I got to use the new laser cutter/3D printer/spray booth so SLT feel it was a good investment, it will look great on the shelf next to that Alessi product etc.) That is a discussion for another time though 😉
At the other end of the scale, give most Year 7 a task like ‘evaluate the needs of an elderly person and develop an eco -friendly method of delivering medication while providing a form of entertainment with opportunities for social interaction and development’ and you are understandably asking for a sea of blank expressions. KS3 should really be a mix of accessible contextual challenges and tasks that cover the skills that will be necessary at the next stage of education should they progress to GCSE but still provide an enlightening experience even if they don’t.
‘Problem solving’ for it’s own sake is not necessarily good teaching, students need to engage with the reason for solving that problem and be able to relate it to the real world…their world. Making up a problem or context in order to justify your decision to continue making that pencil holder they ‘like to take home’ may not be the best way to teach this subject.
So, is a clock or a desk tidy a worthwhile project at KS3/4? I could ask the students who have taken the concept of a modular desk organiser to A Level standard with prototypes worthy of developing commercially or those who designed a ‘timepiece’ for the elderly, visually impaired or to teach young children to tell the time in a fun way. Pretty sure they will remember the experience, the learning and the purpose for longer than the ‘product’ they took home for decoration.