Education Essays - Design and Technology

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Can we promote more interest in Design & Technology by having more relevant projects.


To define Design and Technology and what students need to know in education is complex, and drawing directly on real world practices may provide educators with confidence and guidance in teaching design. This should give clear definitions and descriptions on how design works in practice, thus enabling educators to select which features of these practices can be translated into the encouragement of designer thinking and behaviour in educational contexts. This paper considers the encouragement of interest required to enhance and motivate a higher interest in Design & Technology by having more relevant projects. Where realisation of concepts empowers fantasies, freeing the imaginations from reality into design. Creating the desired from the perceived. Resulting in keeping the process sharp.

This paper will discuss considerations on the way a pupil perceives and processes information, for design in terms of action, reflection and appraisal and for technology in respect to solutions to technological problems through the process of invention.

Evaluation will be made of performance in respect to previous research highlighting the teaching strategies used and the managing of the project.

Above all, the undertaking of the project and the design process involved will set out to be a successful evaluation of teaching / learning experience.

Review of Literature

The work of Denton (1993) discussed the relevance of the design process in schools and whether it has merely a 'stylised ritual', more to do with the production of endless sheets of over decorated artwork with elaborate borders than a design tool. He discusses how the ritual of designing has arisen in education, the origins predating the National Curriculum, around the time when Craft, Design & Technology was introduced into the Curriculum. Furthermore, Denton states that it appears to be centred on an 'incomplete understanding of the process of designing' and the functions of modelling and drawing. The formal design process, as used in industry certainly does flow from initial ideas, research, questionnaires and so on, and Denton is not being overcritical of the design process as such, instead he points to the obvious primary function in design activity being the practical outcome rather than a neat visual presentation of the design activity. Commercial designers have a rough idea of the outcome before they actually start designing and they model a progression of refinements and variations in their ideas. By modelling, Denton makes reference to three types that are useful design tools:

         Drawing: These range from rapid sketches of the design to 'externalise' design ideas to formal rendered pictorial representations of the finished product, complete engineering drawings and exploded diagrams.

         Models: These range from 3D 'lash ups' to demonstrate he principles, give a better idea of proportion and, again, to externalise design ideas. The other end of the scale is the professional presentation scale model that we are familiar with.

         CAD: These can also range from doodles in ProDesktop (or something similar), which enables the designer to get an idea of scale, right through to professionally produced rendered CAD designs.

Most of these final coloured, rendered, anatomically correct models (and drawings) are used to communicate with clients, who will have no interest in rough sketches. It is these rough sketches and doodles that are at the heart of the design process and should be of prime importance to teachers as they are better indicators of the child's design thinking. Denton asserts that most schools prefer exquisitely finished and attractively presented work, complete with borders, in contrast with the rudimentary initial sketches of the design process. This preference is communicated to the pupils, who then spend time reworking their initial drawings, wasting time and efficiency in the process, and slowing down the exploration of fresh ideas. Much of this folder work is finished to such a standard that it is indicative of it being produced after the artefact has actually been made.

In this paper, he proposes that it may be a more useful strategy to break away from the current strategy: starting at AT1: Investigating & Making - generating ideas, and instead start by evaluating something in order to make proposals on how it may be made better. I find that this proposal makes perfect sense, after all most designs are a redesign of an earlier design. The first cars were redesigned carriages, and subsequent cars were simply evolutionary changes, besides, one can empathise with pupils that have limited life experiences, trying to design an artefact starting with a virgin sheet of paper.

Another proposal that, I think, has merit is changing the ratio of designing to making in favour of making, since it is the making that takes the most time. A disproportionate amount of time is spent 'doing research' or more accurately, collating images. Entire lessons devoted to cutting pictures out of Argos catalogues have little merit and a minor influence on the final design. Denton suggests that 'efficiency and effectiveness' may also be developed 'by the use of informal groupwork in the early stages coupled with the use of short deadlines can also promote motivation and possibly the generation of ideas (Denton, 1992).

Kimbell et al explores the results derived from the APU (Assessment of Performance Unit) study of 1991, that described the capability in Design and Technology in terms of action, reflection and appraisal. He explains, in graphical terms, how boys and girls differ in the results of their coursework. According to the APU, girls consistently outperform boys right across the range of abilities, ie, high achieving girls perform better than high achieving boys and low achieving girls perform better than low achieving boys. While this study is fruitful, it doesn't explain why this should be the case.

Lawler (1999) examines this disparity in results between genders by setting a group of pupils in the final year of primary school two separate tasks, recording the results and making comparisons. This age group were chosen because they had had minimal exposure to the procedural methodology imposed on them by their teachers.

The paper hasevolved from research into ways of describing the process of designing. Two possible descriptors to show the effects of introducing project work have been called 'Big pictures' and 'Small steps'.

'Big pictures' designing is future focussed, inspirational, and results in statements of complete ideas. Concerned with the mental process rather than the procedural, self directed, metacognitive process of design.

'Smallsteps' designing is reflective, sequential, analytical, and descriptive.

'Good' designing is evidenced as a combination of these two styles. Some pupils may have a preference for one approach that, if it conflicts with the way their teacher manages the project work, may restrict their progress. Raising the awareness of the teacher to the effects that the strategy that they impose on the project work has on the pupils, could be an important factor in increased student success. The study compared two different contextualised designing approaches to the presentation and management of project work. It shows the effects that each approach had on the performance of a group of seventy-five 11 year olds, and highlights the different responses of boys and girls to the same design situations. The results indicate that the strategy adopted by the teacher for the sequencing of practical project work had a greater effect on 'good designer' boys, than it did on 'good designer' girls and had a greater negative effect on less able girls than it did on less able boys (Lawler, 1999)

In a different attempt to relate pupils' thinking styles to performance in Design and Technology, Atkinson (1995) used a test of Cognitive Style, shown to be intimately related in ideas and attitudes, to examine the performance of pupils in their GCSE coursework, utilizing a test devised by Riding and Cheema (1991) The Cognitive Style Analysis (CSA). The test was a result of over thirty methods of defining cognitive style being reviewed had it was concluded that most could be grouped within two fundamental independent cognitive style dimensions. These descriptors used in that test were seen along two axes (x, y) each subject being placed along the two continua of Wholist to Analyst (x axis) and Verbaliser to Imager (y axis).


Verbaliser Imager


A pupils position in the Wholist to Analytic dimension reflects whether they understand situations as a whole or see things in parts, while their position in the Verbal to Imagery dimension reflects the manner in which they represent information while thinking, either as words or mental pictures. In psychological terms analysts were defined as being field dependent, being affected by the world around them (in their perceptions) and wholists as being the opposite and field independent.

By combining these two concepts, using wholist and analyst to examine pupils' style of designing, new descriptors for 'designing styles' were proposed.

The CSA was produced as a computerised test that automatically calculates and plots a pupils position on both dimensions. The results reflect the way a pupil perceives and processes information. The relative speed in which a pupil answers different styles of questions, reveals their cognitive style (Riding & Staley, 1998)


Whilst on school placement, I noticed another teacher suggesting ideas to a year-12 pupil. Within minutes, the teacher had filled up a side of A3 with quickfire sketches and doodles. If pupils have a short time to focus their minds on quick sketches, it can be more productive than spending an entire lesson producing coloured drawings.

I had an opportunity to try this approach at my last school placement when teaching a class of mixed ability Year 9's. The class were stuck, having spent the previous lesson producing 1 or 2 designs. I suggested that they all swap papers in their groups of four and improve on the original idea. After 10 minutes, the papers were swapped again, and again after another 10 minutes. This resulted in each pupil with three additional ideas to work with.

From this placement experience, I have decided that the best way to establish what Key Stage 3 pupils gain from the Design & Make tasks would be to revisit the two schools in which I taught whilst on teaching practice. The purpose of my visits would be as follows:

         To examine the projects that are made by Key Stage 3 pupils and taking one example note the following; the tools required to make the task, the processes involved, and the amount of the pupils' own design input.

         Subject to approval by the head of department, ask pupils to complete my questionnaires. This will be an indication of whether the pupils have enjoyed making the project, what the pupils have learned from making the project and, if the pupil is in Year 9, whether that pupil is considering taking up Design & Technology in Key Stage 4.

         Finally, I will also ask pupils if they have any suggestions that will improve the project.

The purpose of undertaking design is the development of outcomes of various types. Each design project has stages of construction: these are the components of the final object, in which each stage contains action, reflection and appraisal. As an example: to build a car, there are stages of construction for the engine, transmission, wheels, bodywork, doors, windows, and interior etc. Each of these components has an initial concept, in which action, reflection and appraisal takes place for choice, material and size before it is offered into the final construction of the car, where once again action, reflection and appraisal will take place. Then once all the components are fitted and the car is complete, then reflection and appraisal takes place. Final changes are made and appraisal takes place. The car is completed.

The degree of action, reflection and appraisal that each pupil with undertake is governed by the leadership of their long-term teacher, the teachers experience of design in general and knowledge of design in the real world, and most importantly their confidence and competence within their specialism.

This performance of the teacher: and their use of rapid sketches, pictorial presentations and engineering assembly drawings all go towards efficient modelling techniques. The final piece may be a scaled version or may only exist on a computer screen, but regardless its value is in the development of design ideas and the extent of the pupil's thinking.

I will visit each school every two weeks to evaluate and discuss pupil progress. The project being set for the Design and Make task for Key Stage 3 will be in the context of control, which allows pupils to appreciate the final significance of their work. My direction will be focused towards: the efficiency & effectiveness of design, and a good quality product within a short deadline. These factors I will encourage, as they are the foundation towards the promoting of motivation and the generation of ideas (Denton, 1992).

My direction of evaluating for the projects research will be concise as possible, giving the pupil the high-level skill opportunity, looking for the right amount of information that allows them to realise the aim.

Following completion of my evaluation, I will give verbal feedback to everyone, with a more detailed written appraisal sent within a reasonable time period. The written assessment is an important factor, for the pupils' motivation and long-term progression of development for both designerly thinking and behaviour.

My aim will be to make clear links between the knowledge and skills the pupils need and the sequences of learning activities they are being taught. In my preparation before the visits I will have a clear direction for the design problem: who is it for, what are their needs, where will it be used, number of units to be produced etc., and which design solution of: particular materials, technologies, or products can be identified and taught (Anning et al, 1996)

During each visit I will look for the teaching of technology to be presented in a clear manner that shows a real understanding of technology can be obtained. This understanding will be of the processes of design as well as elements of technological knowledge and essential technological principles. I will look for pupil seeking solutions to technological problems through the process of invention, showing a deeper, fuller understanding of technology by result. Throughout I shall look for encouragement in the use of independent strategies, methods and principles of development, for out of this process of technological development by the pupil can be examined (Hill, 1996).

During my visits, through a brief allocated period, by way of this time constraint test I will evaluate their design performance by way of the Big Picture and Small Step descriptors. I will encourage the pupils towards professional designers practices for inspiration, and seek evidence for emphasis the importance and need for the following in professional design: discussion at all stages of the design process, to continually refer back to the project aims, to continually evaluate progress, and to use sketching as visual notetaking (Hill, 1996, p.3)

Throughout the allocated time for completion of the project, the pupils will be able to access their normal range of information sources made available to them. Therefore I can gain the pupils comments with regard to their depth of to investigation, discussion and resulting informed decisions on the quality, purpose and function required.

On completion of the task I will ask each pupil to complete the questionnaire (see Appendix) from which the responses will be assessed.

Above all, the undertaking of the project and the design process involved should be a successful teaching / learning experience for all.

Results & Discussions

The project was to complete the design and construct a fuse tester. From the results in table1 it is clear that from the two schools visited, School A shows that there are more stages involved in designing and making the fuse tester. Pupils from School A also had greater scope for individualising their designs, although many pupils copied each other because of lack of creativity.

School A

School B

Circuit theory

Circuit theory

Draw circuit using livewire

Spider diagram to identify end user

Solder Components into PCB

Initial ideas

Test Circuit

Final ideas

Research into hand-held devices

Mark out acrylic

Spider diagram to identify end user

Cut out design

Initial ideas

Bend acrylic to shape

Final ideas

Stick copper tape on acrylic

Make prototype from foam

Solder the joins

Make Mould (two halves)

Test and Evaluate

Vacuum form case from Moulds

Test & Evaluate

Table 1

My aim to make clear links between the knowledge and skills the pupils needed and the sequences of learning activities was successful. With my preparation before the visits I had a clear direction for the design problem:

  • Who is it for: General consumer
  • What are their needs: To test general household fuses
  • Where will it be used: In home and office
  • Number of units produced: 250,000
  • Which design solution-

particular materials: Plastic,

technologies: True or false indicator, Circuit board

and products: Connector(s), Battery

On each visit, on initially addressing the class I checked with those pupils furthest away that all could hear me, and that my voice was not too quiet. I then briefly explained the task, whilst handing out extra information sheets, which I then covered in details and finished by asking for any questions. I had taken with me large print versions on the task in case there was pupil(s) present with sight difficulties.

My teaching of technology was presented in a clear manner, where good listening and learning regarding the processes of design as well as elements of technological knowledge and essential technological principles took place. It was clear that individual pupils on the whole, sought solutions to the technological problems through the process of invention, where a fuller understanding of technology followed. I encourage the use of independent strategies, methods and principles of development, from which the process of technological development by the pupil could be examined.

I successfully informed the pupils towards professional designers practices for inspiration at a reasonable pace, checking that all pupils understood, and emphasised the need for discussion at all stages of the design process, to make sure to continually refer back to the project aims, to continually evaluate progress, and to always use sketching as visual notetaking. All of which was successful in varying degrees.

It was seen that some pupils were stronger in relating to some production concepts than others, and in using a varying degree of photographic memory in their detailed sketches whilst seeking their solutions.

Not all designers in the real world are specialists in all fields, therefore it was not expected that a pupil would excel in all areas. And that was confirmed with some pupils being stronger in relating to some design and production concepts than others, a degree of photographic memory being one example where a pupil showed promise in solving a problem with a detailed sketch of a related or unrelated object as the solution.

The completed questionnaire results confirmed the finding of Atkinson (1995) that showed no significant gender difference regarding the pupils perceived ability or their enjoyment of the design process. From the total sample a large number of the pupils believed that they were poor at designing and did not enjoy the task.

Boys %

Girls %

Enjoyed and achieved

Enjoyed but could not achieved

Did not enjoy but achieved

Did not enjoy and could not achieve


100% ( )

100% ( )

Table 2: Pupils perceived enjoyment and capability to achieve good results.

As outlined in Atkinson (1995) the skill and teaching strategies used confirm a clear comparison of collaborator (School A) and interventionist mode (School B). The concept of collaborative learning brings to mind the image of a 'circle of learners', in which the pupils learn with each other by co-constructing knowledge. Collaboration means that people labor together to construct something that did not exist before the collaboration. From this it was seen that the input by the teacher: their personal technological capabilities; their understanding on how each idea could or could not be manufactured by the available resources; the time available; and the knowledge of the pupils manufacturing capability.

Whilst the interventionist mode a faster pace is dictated, not much time was spent on the design, it was draw initial ideas and straight to manufacturing. Very few detailed sketches and their development took place, the project development took place during the manufacturing. Pupils tended to get out of their depth with their technological ability, and showed that here the pupil lost ownership of their idea to the teacher. At this point even capable pupils would be waiting for further instruction as the next step was beyond their capability, which resulted in the teacher becoming frustrated with the pupil's demands.

Regardless of which teaching strategy was adopted the findings confirm that of Atkinson (1995, p.40) at the projects start they both followed a similar pattern. The project was explained, then work began on the specifications and analysis of research required. It was observed that girls were at ease working in a reflective, evaluative research and analysis phase, whilst a large number of the boys were intent on looking forward, past this important design period, on to the manufacturing period ahead.

In respect to the assessment of Big Pictures and Small Steps the process of control and achievement of the pupil by the teacher. Observed over the duration of the project it proves that the creative thinking and project management of Small Steps in School A was clearly passed on to the pupils, as opposed to the linear model of Big Pictures used in School B, yet on an individual level, pupils being offered a combination of both processes produced 'Good' designing capabilities.

From the undertaking of the time constrain test the results confirmed the findings of Lawler (1999) in that a large proportion of the boys achieved better results when the project was introduced through Big Picture designing, and that a large proportion of the girls achieved better results when the project was introduced through Small Step designing.

It was interesting to see a confirmation of data as found by Lawler (1999, p.136) in that the boys did better with a Big Picture designing approach rather than Small Steps, yet girls were spread more evenly between the two.

Conclusions & Recommendations

It is clear through this investigation that to answer the question of: can we promote more interest in Design & Technology by having more relevant projects, the answer is yes.

Teaching of Design & Technology, like most creative subjects, has to be lead by the industry in the real world. The methods of design: from the initial concept, through development to the client, is an important area that cannot be ignored. The various materials and structures that are used in modern construction have to be described, discussed and evaluated to inform the pupil. For without the correct delivery and strategies adopted, progression with Design and Make is slow and inhibited.

Neither, the Collaborative or the Interventionist strategies allow pupils to develop valid approaches to designing, where both compromise progress in different ways. The former being slow with great detail in the process at the expense of well designed outcomes, and the latter being all speed at the expense of development, and complete innovative designs. Yet both strategies are required by the pupil in Key Stage 4 as the progress is always that both boys and girls work beyond their technological capability.

Despite the quality of School A's fuse tester being far superior to that of School B, the end result is the same; a device to test whether a fuse has blown. There cannot be many pupils that can be enthused about making a fuse tester. Electrical appliances are fairly reliable nowadays and a blown fuse is a rarity. The fuse tester will, more than likely, end up in the junk drawer with its battery robbed to power something else. A battery tester would have been a far more useful project altogether.

A somewhat more involved idea for a project would be to make a Peripheral Interface Controller (PIC) orientated project using the PICAXE PIC chip, a UK sourced microcontroller system that is a computer-on-a-chip which is used to control devices, a type of microprocessor that highlights self-sufficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Microcontrollers are exciting new electronic 'single chip computers' that are rapidly being used in industry and education. The 'PICAXE' system is an extremely powerful, yet low cost, microcontroller programming system designed to simplify educational and hobbyist use of microcontrollers (Picaxe, 2006)

These Interface Controllers are being used increasingly in schools for all kinds of projects: electronic dice, mobile phone ringtone generators, cyber pets, all kinds of alarms and sensors, simple electronic games or flashing LED circuits can be made. The possibilities are endless.

Although the pupils wouldn't understand 100% how the circuits work, this isn't necessary. There is sufficient scope for designing and making to fulfil the national curriculum requirements and, perhaps more importantly, to enthuse the pupils into wanting to complete them and take well deserved pride in their achievements. There is more potential for individualising these projects, where creativity could be fostered to offer the pupil high motivation, a positive progression and excellent achievement to encourage further education in the subject, and into Design and Technology in Key Stage 4.


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