Research School Network: D&T Teaching- but not as we know it! Head of Design & Technology, Keren Coles looks at what she has learned from remote teaching

D&T Teaching- but not as we know it!

Head of Design & Technology, Keren Coles looks at what she has learned from remote teaching

by HISP Research School
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20th March 2020 is a date that our current generation of children will not forget- the day the schools closed (for many). Suddenly students had their normal” way of schooling turned upside down. It was an interesting time in the Design and Technology department which I lead at Thornden School. Year 11s were two weeks away from their GCSE D&T NEA deadline, the usual busy last-minute tweaks to practical work and frantic printing off pages for folders stopped; Key Stage 3 practical work suddenly sedentary in boxes half completed; staff creatively thinking –“How can we teach our heavily practical based curriculum remotely?”

The new normal

As soon as the buzz of the news that schools were going to close, Thornden’s ICT CPD delivery went into overdrive. Impressively teachers of all levels of ICT/​online competence got on board and were trained on how to use Microsoft Teams and Show My Homework. I can safely say one good thing to come out of all this is the upskilling of my team in using these platforms, which will only be a massive benefit when we return to normality. The expectation was that the students would follow their usual timetable- but online. All lessons would run and be live apart from the practical subjects, Art, Drama, D&T and PE. These subjects would set themed project work and the staff from these subjects would be used to cover the Key Worker and Vulnerable students on a rota basis. I was one of these teachers.

I must admit I have really enjoyed my days on the rota in school. There is an air of comradery that although was already a part of Thornden’s ethos, is now even more so evident. Luckily, I have been in the same room every time I have been in on my rota day, with mostly the same students. They had adapted to the routine well, they come in in their civvies, smiles on their faces and then plug themselves into their computer- it didn’t take them long to get into the habit of what to do and where to sit. It is amazing to think there are these 8 or so children in one room all plugged into the computer being taught different subjects, by different teachers from their homes. Students can be watching subject specific films, being read a book over Teams by their teacher, having maths equations explained remotely, recording their German speaking into their phone, designing space pods on paper. Although kids being kids do try and get the sneaky game up from time to time, but they know when they have been rumbled and get back on it.

Design & Technology

As a Design and Technologist, I am passionate about my subject. It is a subject that I feel lots of people still do not understand its true value. It is all about problem solving, being creative, independent thinking, life skills and a mammoth amount of technical knowledge about materials/​manufacturing techniques/CADCAM……I could go on! However, on that date in March 2020 as a department we suddenly had to do a pirouette and conjure up a whole new Scheme of work for Key Stage 3. Fortunately, Year 10s were covering the Core content of the GCSE course so our current lessons were relatively straight forward enough to develop as an online lesson.

Key Stage 3 however!

Design & Technology is so much more than making a wooden box! At Thornden we focus on the student’s enjoyment in the manufacture and development of their product, our Key Stage 3 is a very practical biased curriculum, with the drip feeding of the theory content woven into the practical projects. This made it very difficult for them to continue with their current projects at home.

Sending home a circuit to solder really wasn’t going to cut it. We decided that we would set some design projects where the students would follow the design process and then produce some model and prototype outcomes that could be made at home. One of the first projects was developed by our Textiles specialist who devised a 4‑lesson module all around PPE for the COVID situation. The first task being the students had to make their own face mask leading up to students designing and developing their own creative outcomes of possible solutions to aspects of staying safe in the current climate. I love that the students come up with crazy designs, being at home has fuelled their creativity. We had a working model of a windscreen wiper for their phone, a hand sanitiser device for their front door and lots of scrub bags! Other projects involved some element of modelling i.e. the egg drop challenge disguised as the new Virgin Galactic’s escape pod to our current project James Dyson’s Marble run challenge. We are hoping that by setting these challenges the students are thinking outside of the box and developing their iterative designing skills, which are so important in today’s Design & Technology curriculum. The Food modules were also able to be adapted with the option for the students to cook if they could and wanted to.

And then Key Stage 4

Fortunately, our Year 11 students had finished the manufacturing of their products it was just the finishing touches to their folders that was needed for their NEAs when we closed. Having set up packs of revision for them all in that week in the lead up to the closure we were confident they had enough resources to help them with their revision, but it was not to be with exams cancelled. Most of them however can be proud of their finished products.

I have to say teaching the Year 10s their NEA remotely is interesting! We started the exam board set context challenges with the Year 10 students on the 1st June, we did not know for sure until the 28th May if the exam board was going to release them on the calendar date. Fortunately, with a slight amendment in the specification to enable the students to do their folder work at home, the exam board gave the go ahead for the NEA to be able to be undertaken. Having been able to have our one off face to face lesson with our Year 10s over the last couple of weeks has been a godsend, trying to ensure that each individual student has a handle of their own project is such a key element of the NEA and hopefully we have been able to do that for each of them.

Next steps

Just this morning I have been reading the Ofqual consultation document about the proposed changes to the assessment of GCSEs in 2021. I have also been looking through all the conversations on social media about the how the GCSE Design & Technology will be changed for next year’s Year 11s. The devil is in the detail and to be honest I am not much clearer about the way forward for my subject. It is implying that it will Permit exam boards to accept mock-up or clear detailed intentions of prototypes”. Now the debate is ongoing; but does this mean NO practical for our Year 11s next year? I sincerely hope not! My take on this is- if we still can- we will still make! But until we have specifics it is all a guessing game, so I think we will just have to wait and see.

Finally, the way the students are responding to the challenges of this new way of learning is uplifting, seeing my own children plugged into their computers first thing in the morning (often not dressed!) is I have to say a surreal experience, but as things move forward and we are returning to our new normal, I know we have all evolved in our teaching skills which can only enhance our students’ learning in the future.

Coles Blog

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