Teaching D&T at primary
Design and technology is just one of those subjects; you either love it or you hate it. And while the idea of having children learn about designing, planning, building, and reflecting may seem like fun and interesting things to do in a lesson, many teachers become overwhelmed and stressed out about having to actually prepare for one. I hope to shed some light on this topic, and give you some practical suggestions for how to execute a thorough, informative, and engaging D&T lesson.
Break the task down into manageable chunks
Spending 10-15 minutes to thoroughly map out the end goal of your unit or scheme of work is important in understanding the smaller steps needed to help you get there. For instance, listing the skills children should be equipped with by the end of the unit will help you better determine which smaller skills to practice in the weeks leading up to the end of the unit. Plan those smaller skills in for each lesson, and it won’t seem like you have as much ground to cover. Make sure to teach those skills in an order that makes sense with regards to what portion of the project is going to be covered that week. This way, each week builds off of the skills learnt in the previous week’s lesson.
Understanding the aims and objectives will also help you to focus your input. For example, there’s no point explaining where to position cardboard towers in your model city without first understanding how to stick together the materials to simply make a cardboard tower. Have quality, open discussions with your class that are relevant to the task, as opposed to telling them all the information they need to know. Half the fun in a D&T lesson is getting to watch children try and try again, until eventually they understand how something works, and can apply that knowledge successfully. This can only happen if the teacher steps back as a director, and acts more like a facilitator.
It’s worth noting that building in time to take your class outside, to a nearby park, or just to an open space with their sketchbooks can be a very powerful tool to help children get inspired for their project. Taking the cardboard city project for example, allowing children to sketch buildings around their neighbourhood, up a nearby street, or simply sketching their school, gives them a visual stimulus for the work they will be creating later on. It allows them to physically touch the corners, edges, curves, texture, and material of the building, as well as see the shapes and supports therein.
Organise yourself and your resources
When it comes to D&T, it’s important to know what exact resources you’ll need, and where to find them. Looking at each lesson and figuring out exactly what you need and where to look for them are crucial. Make a list of the resources you need; for example, lollysticks, wooden slabs, hot glue, scissors, paper mache, etc. First look around your room for anything that might be lurking around. Often times, teachers miss opportunities to use materials in their own classrooms. If you’re struggling to find a particular material, consider whether it’s possible to swap it out with a something similar. One example of this is swapping out string for pipe cleaners if you need to tie two things together. If not, take 5 minutes at lunchtime to have a quick look. If it is safe to, send 2-3 children to hunt for the items you need the day before the lesson is to be taught. Store all items together in a large box, or find some space in your room to store them. When you’re ready, divvy up the resources. If necessary, use sandwich bags and stick a label on the front. You could definitely get children to help with this!
Organise the children
A crucial step in planning a D&T lesson is to look at the project from the children’s point of view – ask yourself these questions:
1. Is the project itself easy to grasp, or is it overwhelming with intricate parts?
2. Would you know where to start?
3. Would you be able to generate ideas on your own?
If you hesitated with any of these, your class probably will to. In fact, I don’t know any child who hasn’t felt slightly overwhelmed when starting a D&T project! In order to help break down the project and help your children make sense of it, consider writing a checklist or a step-by-step instruction guide. That doesn’t have to mean listing every step, what to use in each step, how much of a material you need, etc – it just means giving your class some guidance about how to begin, how much time should be spent on each step (ultimately telling them which parts are more important), and what the end goal should look like. I like to spend a bit of time writing a mini “Engineer’s booklet” or “Builder’s checklist” to hand out to the children for them to follow, or refer back to if they get stuck. If you’re not sure what this might look like, you can look at a preview here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/d-and-t-project-building-an-ancient-roman-temple-11334619 or here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/3d-shape-construction-project-11014977.
Build in lots of talk opportunities
Remember that while delivering your lesson, children will naturally be curious – and probably overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of having lots of choice, working as a team, or just getting their hands on materials and having the chance to create! There is some debate about the whole “teacher-led vs student-led” issue, which you can read about here: http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/which-is-best-teacher-centered-or-student-centered-education/. Personally, as someone who loves watching children discuss, strategise, co-operate, and build teamwork skills, I am an advocate of student-led work, especially when it comes to D&T. I guess it comes down to how much “noise” you are comfortable with in your classroom, and how well-managed your children are. Behaviour is definitely something to be monitored during these types of D&T lessons, as you are giving children more freedom to use time as they see fit, and for some, this could mean chatting to friends and letting other group members do all the work.
If planned carefully and executed mindfully, you will see a side to your class you might not have seen before. When creativity has a chance to flourish and children have the opportunity to make decisions, discuss, and collaborate, it truly is something magical!
Victoria Crossan is a primary school teacher in Essex.