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Better by design

Victoria Neumark finds out how the theory is put into practice

They've remembered more than me and they were falling over themselves to tell me what had happened," says Carolyn Taylor, teacher at Frizinghall primary school in Bradford, delighting in her pupils' autumn term project on packaging. For the past two months, in aYear 34 class with two thirds having learning or emotional and behavioural difficulties, an hour a week has been "real fun" on a Friday. Fun for the teacher, too, despite including meticulous planning, recording and analysis.

Ms Taylor has rolled out a step-by-step process with the class. They began by looking at a selection of ready-made packaging and discussing its use of colour, typography, shape and purpose. After picking out salient features - that much of it is cuboid, that colours and fonts are bold - small groups planned shapes and opened them out into nets. The children went on to make their own nets from paper, choosing from prisms, pyramids, cubes and cuboids, following a template made by their teacher. They used ICT (MS Works or Apple Works) to choose fonts and make labels, checking spelling and grammar. They analysed the nets to see where to fold, hinge and fasten, and what was the use of flaps. Finally, they discussed colour and its influence on consumers.

Then they had a skills break to reinforce how to score and cut lines with a steel ruler and open scissors. They also experimented with materials, discarding the idea of plastic and voting for paper and card.

The making stage was the most exciting for the children who were highly motivated to make their on products. They had studied shape, healthy eating and jewellery and, as they had just had a delivery of new pencils, boxes for fruit, jewellery and pencils were very popular. Before they actually started, they had to describe what they would make and discuss it: were sequins suitable for a jewellery box? What shape would suit a special tangerine for Christmas? What colour might be best for a box of chocolate cereal? Then they chose and recorded their materials. Interestingly, although they had all learned how to make windows, and one child had even brought in cellophane to make a window, no one wanted to give up the chance of decorating one side of their container by including a window.

Using the templates pre-cut by the teacher, the children focused on colour and collage. Felt-tips, wax crayons, sequins and ribbons were pressed into service. A teddy-bear cartoon illustrated one boy's cereal carton, while one girl chose blue and purple, "colours ladies like", to beautify her jewellery box. Carolyn Taylor is very fond of this product. "It is really all her own work, and quite delicate and fresh," she says.

The project ended with a plenary brainstorming to recapitulate all the stages, followed by a class display and an assembly for the whole school. "They've learned so much," says Ms Taylor. "There's maths in there, with shape and nets, there's English with the writing, ICT, Damp;T of course, oral skills in the discussion. It's very empowering for the less able becasue they often shine, but it's fun for everyone. And," she laughs, "they're dying to take them home for Christmas presents!"

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